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Transparency and Consistency of Sentencing

Volume 539: debated on Thursday 2 February 2012

[Relevant documents: Seventh Report from the Justice Committee, Session 2010-12, Draft Sentencing Guidelines: Drugs and Burglary, HC 1211; First Report from the Justice Committee, Session 2010-12, Revised Sentencing Guideline: Assault, HC 637; and oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 13 December 2011 on the Annual Report of the Sentencing Council, HC 1711-i.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the work of the Sentencing Council and the transparency and consistency of sentencing.

I am glad to have the opportunity to debate this issue today. Public confidence in our criminal justice system rests on the principle that justice is dispensed independently by a judge in possession of the full facts of a case. It is normal to quote Magna Carta: we do not deprive people of their liberty

“without due process of law”

in this country. It is not the case in the United Kingdom, as it still is, unfortunately, in many parts of the world, that the Executive can order the detention and trial of people simply on the basis that they disagree strongly with the Government. Neither is it the case, as it is in some other judicial systems, that trials can be stretched out and rerun, until the “right” judgment is reached. Politicians do not sentence people in individual cases, judges do, and British Governments lose cases when they are parties in civil actions. I shall not go on, because we all know that those are the fundamentals of civil liberties and the rule of law in this country.

Independence is what we employ judges for, but alongside that fundamental truth lies an equally important principle—the discretion to do justice in individual case. Only judges see the full circumstances of each case, and they need the freedom to vary sentences in individual instances in accordance with the gravity of the offence. They have to bear in mind the circumstances of the individual offender and such mitigation as they may be able to offer. Sometimes the offence will be so aggravated that a higher than average sentence is required, as we saw, for example, after the riots in August. On other occasions, there will be significant personal mitigation, or relatively little harm caused to the victim, which means that a lower sentence than average will be justified. Just as we trust that our independent judges are the right people to make sensible decisions about the running of cases, so we generally trust them to apply the framework of criminal law across a range of different kinds of case of varying degrees of seriousness.

On the point about gravity, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have noted the sentences that were given yesterday to a group of four al-Qaeda inspired fundamentalists, who as the result of a Goodyear hearing will, in effect, be out of prison within six years. Does he consider it important to revisit the whole notion of Goodyear hearings in view of the fact that people who were going to cause mayhem in London have got away with being in prison for only six years?

I am not yet familiar with the full facts of the case, so I certainly shall not comment. There is also a matter of principle. The custom is growing that Ministers conduct a running commentary on sentences in individual cases as they proceed. I do not think that that is wise. I believe in the separation of powers. The right hon. Gentleman is a senior and respected Member of the House, but my understanding is that those people will be sentenced next week. I will check. When the sentence is actually imposed, we have a system whereby the Attorney-General can put in an appeal on the ground of leniency and ask the Court of Appeal to reconsider it. I will inquire more closely during the course of the debate, as the right hon. Gentleman is obviously concerned.

Public confidence would not be well served if individual judges gave widely varying sentences in similar cases. We have one body of law as determined by Parliament, and the punishment should fit the crime. Parliament imposing the law is the guardian of public opinion. We are answerable to the general public and the maximum tariffs set by the House have to be taken as a guide by judges in all cases.

Different cases should attract different punishments. The question is how to ensure that our independent judiciary can make judgments that fit the facts of the case but are also consistent with each other: how to balance, on the one hand, the imperative of judicial freedom—such that they have the latitude to sentence according to circumstance—with, on the other hand, the need for a consistent approach across the system and in all our courts.

My right hon. and learned Friend rightly focuses on public confidence. What assessment has he made of the current state of public confidence in sentencing? Does he have a view about the poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft and carried out by Populus, which shows that more than 80% of the public, more than 80% of the police and more than 80% of victims think that sentencing is too lenient at the moment?

That has always been the case, certainly in my lifetime, and I suspect it always will be. I always wonder why that is the consistent public attitude. I shall not launch into criticism of the press, but I think it is because of the way these things are always presented to the public. The newsworthy cases are those where the newspaper decides to give a short version of the case and rouses the indignation of its readers by the apparent leniency of the sentence. Much though I respect opinion polls, particularly those obtained by Lord Ashcroft, the fact is that most citizens never go to a court of law. Most people, if we ask them, do not know what sort of sentences are imposed by the court. If all they read about are individual sensational cases, which a particular editor is trying to present as scandalous because of a lenient sentence, it tends to form public attitudes.

I shall not go further, but when we read a newspaper, we should not believe we are hearing all the facts of the case. The judge has probably heard hours of evidence from both sides, but what we read are two or three snappy lines summarising what is supposed to have happened in the opinion of the journalist.

Let us look at the facts. Perhaps the public are worried about this fact: 48% of burglars do not receive an immediate custodial sentence.

In a moment, I shall probably make another passing reference to the fact that the Sentencing Council guidelines make it clear that custody is undoubtedly a normal sentence for burglary. In my experience, it always has been, and it still is. There has to be a clear mitigating circumstance for anybody to avoid a custodial circumstance.

My right hon. and learned Friend is correct in his assertions about lack of knowledge. It is not the fault of the public; it is the fault of the system that there is lack of knowledge in the public domain. That point is eloquently demonstrated and backed up by the findings of research conducted by Ipsos MORI for the Sentencing Council in May last year.

I am reminded by my hon. Friend.

The facts of a case are given and the public are invited to give what they think is an appropriate sentence. Then they are told the sentence the judge gave. In fact, members of the public tend to give more lenient sentences than judges impose, because they have been led to believe—I shall not carry on, because it will only lead to reprisals in the morning. Some of our right-wing newspapers, which I started reading when I was a very small boy, have been telling the nation about soft judges letting off criminals for as long as I can remember, and in my opinion that will be the theme of some of our leading popular newspapers in 50 years’ time, if they survive that long. I shall move on.

This is where the Sentencing Council comes in—the independent body established in 2010 and ably led by its chairman, the right hon. Lord Justice Leveson, to whom I am grateful. Its role is precisely to promote a clear, fair and, above all, consistent approach to sentencing, backed up by supporting analysis and research. As hon. Members know, it does that by publishing guidelines—carefully crafted analyses that set out a clear decision-making process for courts and give guidance on aggravating and mitigating factors to help inform the sentence.

The guidelines include examples of the different levels of harm that a crime can cause, both to victims and the community. They set out varying levels of culpability that apply to offenders, such as whether the offence was committed on the spur of the moment or whether it was carefully planned in advance. They suggest common starting points and ranges for courts to use for different levels of offence. Importantly, they are guidelines, not tramlines or a rigid framework. They are flexible, and judges are always free to depart from them in exceptional circumstances. The most valuable quality for any judge in any court is judgment, which is what, in the end, they bring to bear.

The point that guidelines should be guidelines was demonstrated after the riots, when in extraordinary circumstances judges used their discretion and gave firm sentences. Guidelines are for ordinary circumstances, but for those extraordinary events judges were spot-on in using their discretion.

As it happens, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s opinion. Judges rightly reflected the fact that the background was a sudden, alarming outburst of public disorder and that they needed quickly to give firm and severe sentences, in some cases above the average normally imposed for the offence. That was a correct response to public need.

In the two years it has been operating, the Sentencing Council has done much valuable work not only to promote consistency but in its more general role of seeking to improve public confidence in the criminal justice system. However, it has on occasion been criticised for both its general role in developing guidance for the courts and the contents of particular guidelines. The case that I want to make today, before listening to the views of the House, is that the current system is the right one and that these criticisms are largely misdirected. Contrary to what one sometimes reads in the newspapers, sentencing guidelines take a proportionate and sensible approach to the punishment of offenders, and one in which the public should have great confidence.

My right hon. and learned Friend, in his normal charming way, has encompassed some of the problems in his overview of the concerns about the faith and trust of taxpayers and constituents in the criminal justice system. He says that he does not want to set a precedent whereby Parliament provides a running commentary on sentencing, and he criticises the media prism in which sentencing is discussed, but surely he concedes the obfuscation of court procedures. When will the average taxpayer get a say on sentencing in this country?

That is what this debate is for. MPs, and everyone else, are of course perfectly entitled to make whatever comments they wish about the criminal justice system, which, like every part of the public service, is accountable to Parliament, and ultimately it is Parliament that determines the framework of law by which the whole thing is conducted. It seems to have become rather fashionable nowadays for a running commentary to break out about a series of cases, and I think that we should be more sparing. I also think that anyone who comments on this or any other matter should ensure that they have the full facts before going out and giving a considered opinion, rather than just reacting to something they read over their morning coffee.

I thank the Lord Chancellor, who is being extremely generous, for giving way. His points about press sensationalism, the separation of powers and not wanting to have a running commentary from politicians are well made. However, I think that the lack of public confidence is not just due to a thirst for punishment beyond reason, because there is also the fact that reoffending rates are high. The point about sentencing is that we want it to be an effective deterrent against reoffending. At the moment, 49% of all prisoners reoffend within a year of release, and for adults released from short-term prison sentences the rate rises to 60%. We have to convince the public that our criminal justice system is effectively deterring prisoners from reoffending, which is not an issue of sensationalism.

I could not agree more. In fact, in so far as I have brought anything into policy since taking up my current post, it has to put much greater emphasis on reoffending, which is the biggest weakness of our system, but covering the full range of reforms would be outside the scope of the debate. The system punishes first of all, but it would serve the public better if it also led to the reform of more offenders, so that we could get reoffending rates down to a more respectable level. My colleagues and I are trying to address that in everything that we do in the Department of Justice.

It is relevant to the debate to consider what is most effective in deterring reoffending. Some people have held the belief for years, quite understandably, that in order to cut reoffending we must deter people by sending more and more to prison for longer and longer sentences. My personal opinion is that the evidence completely refutes that view. That approach does not work, particularly if it makes prisons overcrowded and unresponsive places where prisoners toughen up and meet some rough friends before being released to fend for themselves in the outside world. We are making more intelligent use of the prison estate so that, in addition to the punishment of confinement, there is a process of reform based on a working environment that tackles drugs, drink, mental illness and all the other things in order to lead people to behave when they are released.

I have now set off a whole lot of other interventions. As I have started this diversion, or been led to it, I will give way again.

I am very interested in what the Secretary of State is saying and agree with his view about the importance of deterrence as well as punishment, but there is a flaw in what he is saying about sending people to prison. When talking to police officers in my constituency a year or so ago, I was told that they took five or six prolific burglars off the streets and put them away for a year or two, which had a massive impact on burglary rates in the area, so it does work. Although they will be released eventually and might reoffend, the fact is that putting people in prison does have an impact in certain circumstances.

Burglary rates dropped in recent years because we had an economic boom, and I think that there is a serious danger that they will go up again—they are going up at the moment—if we do not get out of our present economic difficulties quickly. Better policing also counts. In my opinion, the police have become much better at targeting suspected offenders and arresting the people causing most of the crime. Of course prison is the right place for serious offenders, so the sentences that the hon. Gentleman describes sound quite light to me for persistent burglars, and everyone gets a rest while they are sent to prison. As I said when agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), while such people are in prison, given that they will be released one day, we should make more intelligent use of prisons to try to ensure that we reform those people so that they are less likely to reoffend.

The Secretary of State seems to be arguing that sending people to prison for longer would not help to reduce reoffending, but his Department’s own figures indicate that the longer they spend in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend. If he is not sure about that, I can tell him that the reoffending rate for people who spend less than 12 months in prison is 61%; for those who spend 12 months to two years in prison, it is 36%; for those who spend two to four years in prison, it is 28%; and for those who spend more than four years in prison, it is 17.6%. It is clear that the longer people spend in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend.

There is another debate to be had on that, which my hon. Friend will no doubt press for. If people are sent to prison for less than 12 months, we really do nothing whatsoever for them there. They are locked up, released at the end of their sentence and given no support when they leave, and there are staggering levels of reoffending. One thing that has always been done, by the previous Government and every Government, is that the more serious offenders are kept in prison for longer and more effort is made to try to keep an eye on them when they get out. That is a very brief summary of that debate. Once we start swapping statistics in this way, we could argue practically anything, particularly as most criminal statistics have been remarkably unreliable in recent years—I hope that they are now being improved. My hon. Friend’s view is not quite the same as mine, but I respect it.

My right hon. and learned Friend is being most gracious and generous in giving way. I wish to be helpful, if I can. I am puzzled by his view on the fact that putting people in prison does not work, because he will know about the possible great success of the social investment bond in HMP Peterborough, where 46% of the indicative income for keeping prisoners in prison will go back to St Giles Trust, Nacro and other third sector organisations. That approach will be rolled out across the whole country, if it is successful. Surely the point is that putting people in prison can work, if it demonstrably reduces recidivism in the long run.

I do not disagree. I have always held up the arrangement at Peterborough prison as a model of where we want to go. It is exactly what I wish to encourage. People are imprisoned, first, because they have to make their reparations to the public and be punished for what they have done but, as my hon. Friend has rightly said, there is now an extremely interesting situation in place where attempts to start reforming criminals start in the prison and are followed through outside by St Giles Trust, which is the partner of the private sector managers of the prison. We hope to replicate that pilot across the country, which is an example of where we ought to go. People get the punishment first and then proper efforts to stop them offending when they are released.

To pursue that point further, is it not the case that if we have a system that faces constant increases in numbers, overcrowding and prisoners being moved around in order to accommodate the problems that the system faces, we will not get sentence planning, the careful structuring of sentences or measures to prevent reoffending, which are needed.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, that problem has constantly recurred with the extraordinary explosion in the number of people in prison in recent years.

As I have said, I am not saying that everything is perfect in the wider criminal justice system. I freely acknowledge that reporting and public understanding of our system is far from ideal, which is one reason why the coalition Government have a far-reaching programme of criminal justice reform as well as measures to promote transparency and public understanding. However, we should not muddle the problems of an overly complex body of law, which is too rarely reported accurately, with the rules governing how our judiciary apply the law in particular cases.

For the avoidance of doubt, it is worth saying that although the Sentencing Council is a recent innovation, the approach that it embodies is not new. Sentencing has operated in England and Wales for more than 100 years under broadly the same well-established constitutional settlement, in which Parliament sets the overarching legislative framework within which courts sentence, including the maximum penalty and, for some offences of particular public concern, the minimum penalty available to the courts. The role of independent judges is to work within that framework.

Since 2010, the Sentencing Council and its predecessor, the Sentencing Guidelines Council which was created in 2005, have provided courts with a decision-making process to assess the harm that offences cause to victims and communities, suggesting common starting points and ranges, and highlighting aggravating factors. The Sentencing Council has not fundamentally changed the basic division of responsibilities or the balance of power between Parliament, Government and the judiciary. Before the previous Government created the Sentencing Council, the Court of Appeal carried out this function. Its criminal division gave guidance to courts when it thought that discrepancies were beginning to occur. The Court of Appeal has not lost that power entirely and still gives guidance when it feels it necessary. However, the council now provides the great majority of such support to the courts.

If my hon. and learned Friend will forgive me, I ought to get on or else I will be running a seminar for a large part of the afternoon, which would not satisfy all my hon. Friends.

The Sentencing Council adds stronger checks and balances to the tradition. It does so, first, through its 13-strong membership. The majority of its members are judges and magistrates, but it also includes the Director of Public Prosecutions, the former acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the former chief executive of Victim Support. The council has not yet produced guidelines for any category of offences that have not received the support of the Association of Chief Police Officers. These are not simply judge-made guidelines for the courts; a range of backgrounds are represented on the council.

Secondly, the guidelines are determined independently and transparently, but with extensive public consultation. The consultations for recent guidelines have happened over 12 weeks and have elicited thousands of responses. Thirdly, the guidelines enjoy a proper level of parliamentary scrutiny. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and his colleagues on the Select Committee on Justice consider every draft guideline in detail, taking extensive written and oral evidence from a wide range of experts, including the chairman of the council. The Select Committee’s work ensures that there is meaningful democratic engagement in sentencing guidelines, without compromising the crucial principle of judicial independence.

Over the past 18 months, the council has published guidelines on a number of areas, on occasion attracting lurid headlines about excessive leniency and so-called soft judges. Let me address that directly. Our judges are far from overly lenient. The average length of prison sentences has increased by 20% over the past 10 years. I do not have proper figures but, having practised myself 30 years ago, I think that the increase has been even greater. We now send many more people to prison and impose longer sentences than was ever the norm until the past four years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) pointed out, judges can still respond to things such as the riots in an appropriate way.

The guidelines are concerned centrally with ensuring that sentences properly reflect the seriousness of an offence. They are statutorily required to have regard to the impact of sentencing on victims and public confidence in the criminal justice system. Naturally, people seize on isolated parts of the guidelines and quote them out of context. However, when set against the cases that courts see every day, they are well-thought-out, carefully considered, serious pieces of work. For example, the guideline on burglary concludes that domestic burglary should habitually attract a custodial sentence, that the sentimental value of any goods taken must be considered alongside their financial value, and that the presence of children when a burglary is taking place will significantly aggravate its seriousness.

My right hon. and learned Friend is gracious in giving way so often, and he has made clearly his point that burglars should get a custodial sentence. Let me refer to my previous intervention. If we are talking about domestic burglary—which is the worst thing—in 2009, 37% of those convicted of domestic burglary were given a non-custodial sentence. Does it worry him that the courts are not following what he is advising, which is that the people who cause such misery should end up in prison?

Individual judges must have considered the guidelines, which are quite new. I am surprised by that figure, however, because burglary has always habitually required a custodial sentence. There must have been some feature in those cases that made people think—either because of a particular problem with the offender when it might have been better to send them on a drug-rehabilitation course, or some other mitigating feature—that on this occasion they would not impose a custodial sentence.

Like all criminal offences, burglary is a wide-ranging offence. It covers everything from someone who has opportunistically opened a door, nicked something off a shelf and run, to two men wearing masks and going into a building, prepared to be violent towards anyone who tries to stop them. There is bound to be a range of sentences, but the guidelines of the Sentencing Council state that domestic burglary should habitually attract a custodial sentence. I have always agreed with that, as does my hon. Friend.

I want to consider the guideline on drug offences that produced some headlines last week. That guideline helps courts to distinguish between organised criminals who, as we know, cause misery to families and the whole community, and those who have become involved in the drug trade through intimidation or a dependency of their own. Contrary to the rather inaccurate headlines that occurred last week, which claimed that street dealers caught with 6 kg of cocaine could avoid jail—that startled me when I heard it repeated on the radio—the truth is that possession of that amount of a drug would be a very serious crime. The starting point for sentencing would be at least seven years in custody, even for an offender playing a lesser role in a criminal operation, rising to a starting point of 14 years in custody for those who have a leading role. The wholly inaccurate headlines stating that drug offences would receive lighter sentences were based solely on the reduction of the sentence for so-called drug mules, if they are addicts and are being exploited to carry drugs for the person who is manipulating them. That sentence has been eased a bit, to the extent that sentences for drug mules who bring in 1 kg of heroin or cocaine now have a starting point of only six years in custody, whereas previously that might have been 10 years.

Significantly higher sentences were recommended for those who play leading roles in a criminal operation, which is why the guidelines on drug sentencing did not receive the slightest criticism from anybody who knows the criminal justice system, including the police and prosecutors. Frequently, the commonly made criticisms of our judiciary and of the guidance produced by the Sentencing Council are unmerited.

I do not, however, wish to defend the status quo uncritically. Anyone who is remotely acquainted with our justice system knows that there are genuine challenges facing it, and that we cannot afford any complacency in addressing them. Sentencing guidelines, and the work of the Sentencing Council, would benefit from further public scrutiny and understanding. The need to ensure that the guidelines receive due public and parliamentary focus is precisely why the Government have allocated today for this debate. I look forward to listening to right hon. and hon. Members and hope that the debate will make a small contribution to establishing public attitudes, and perhaps also to successfully scotching some of the myths that surround the Sentencing Council’s work.

More broadly on confidence in the criminal justice system, it is no surprise to me that the public find it difficult to make sense of the body of criminal law, given that it has grown like Topsy in recent years. Under the Labour Government, constant changes and 20 criminal justice Acts over 13 years left us with a system that even experts have struggled to make sense of. Top-down schemes, meddling and prescription left the system in a complete mess. There were thousands of new offences. I was greeted publicly at the judges’ dinner with the complaint that

“hell is a fair description of the problem of statutory interpretation”.

The net result? A sentencing policy so chaotic and badly managed that towards the end of the last Government’s time in office, they had no room for all the extra people they were putting in prison. They had to let 80,000 criminals out early who promptly went on to commit more than 1,600 fresh crimes. I approved of the new unpaid work community payback scheme, but the way in which it was put into practice meant that offenders serving community sentences usually completed only one or two days of unpaid work each week. That is why there is an urgent need to sort out sentencing, and why we are reforming it. We will simplify it and make it easier to understand, and the House has already considered the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is currently in the other place and will introduce some of our far-reaching reforms.

Under that Bill, we propose to reform the statutory duty on courts and judges to explain the meaning and effect of their sentences and communicate them in plain English so that people can understand what will happen to the offender. We are simplifying the release framework so that all prisoners will be governed by one set of rules, making it easier for justice agencies to keep victims informed, and we are replacing the disgrace of so-called indeterminate sentences for public protection with a tough, determinate regime that can be easily understood by victims and the public. [Interruption.] I hear protests, but we all know that the guru on sentencing, Mr Thomas, described those sentences as an “unmitigated disaster”. In due course, we will also bring forward proposals to ensure that community punishments punish and reform more effectively.

Finally, I believe that our system suffers from a fundamental lack of information and openness. Public understanding of sentencing is critical to confidence in the system and to its effectiveness in ensuring that justice is done. We need to open up a system that to many people remains a rather mysterious world, to reassure people that the law is on the side of the law-abiding citizen. That is why I have announced measures that, in my opinion, collectively amount to a revolution in transparency in our courts.

One major item of progress is that we are developing legislation to remove the prohibition on cameras in courts and allow the broadcasting of sentencing remarks. That will be introduced in the Court of Appeal in the first place, but will be followed by extension to the Crown court at a later date. The filming of victims, witnesses, defendants and jurors will of course not be allowed under any circumstances. The change is intended to ensure that the public can see and hear sentences being handed down and hear the comments that judges make on cases. It is not so that our courts will become theatre. I hope that it will help to demystify the court process without undermining the seriousness and diligence that is so central to the quality of our justice system.

Alongside the televising of sentencing remarks, we are seeking to expand the use of restorative justice. Though the restorative approach is often seen as a means of reducing reoffending, for victims who want to take part it also helps to open up the court process. It allows victims to play an active role in helping the court determine how to deal with an offender, which is one reason why victim satisfaction levels with the approach are so high. Restorative processes can help to turn the justice system from one that does things to victims to one that does things with victims.

Last but not least, we are releasing more data than ever before on the performance of our courts. The radicalism of that policy has perhaps not yet been fully recognised, but it has the potential to deliver major progress in public understanding. For the first time, we are making available information on court performance, including delays and total times, and on sentencing decisions classified by offence. That will enable the public to see exactly what sentences are being handed down and where, particularly in their own locality, and it will help them to put that information in context.

What we are doing will represent a fundamental shift in how the justice system works. Justice must not only be done but be seen to be done if it is to command public confidence. The challenge is to deliver reforms to the wider system to simplify it and make its performance more visible to the public. As the measures that I have outlined suggest, I believe we are on the threshold of a step change in openness and transparency. The changes will complement and strengthen the sensible arrangements under which the Sentencing Council operates, which I readily acknowledge were introduced by the last Government, and its wider place underpinning the sound and long-standing division of responsibilities between the judiciary and the Executive in England and Wales. I look forward to the whole process being subject to parliamentary scrutiny, which we are taking a step further by having this debate.

Transparency and consistency in sentencing is both an end in itself, as part of an open justice system, and a means to an end. It is an essential component in dispensing criminal justice that is fair and credible and has the confidence of the public. No one has a monopoly on wisdom in these matters, although this country is fortunate to have a judiciary and judicial system that has intellect and integrity and applies itself to achieving fair and honest outcomes. From the magistracy to the Supreme Court, from first hearings and summary trials to second and third-stage appeals, there is much to take pride in. Anyone who doubts that needs only to read the sentencing remarks of Mr Justice Treacy in the case of Dobson and Norris, the murderers of Stephen Lawrence.

That is not to be complacent, and it does not mean that we do not need to review and change things. In government, Labour improved the quality of training for lay magistrates, which means better and fairer decision making and gives us confidence to rely more on what has been a mainstay of justice for 650 years. We also set up the Supreme Court, a body that within a few years has become central to the administration of justice in the UK.

I give credit to the Lord Chancellor—[Interruption.] Will the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), allow him to have my attention? I give credit to the Lord Chancellor for some of the steps that he has taken to promote open justice. Publishing comparative data is a good way of examining the performance of individual courts and measuring consistency. We can cautiously welcome the televising of proceedings. Provided that it protects witnesses and victims and does not sensationalise crime or allow defendants to grandstand, it will be a welcome extension of the principle that the default position of the English courts is that they operate in public.

Perhaps in return, Government Back Benchers will give some acknowledgment of the record of recent Labour Governments, although I doubt it. We inherited a poor record in criminal justice, as we did in health, education and policing. We had communities in thrall to crimes that all too often went unsolved and unpunished and a sentencing policy that was too inconsistent and unscientific, lacking any coherent vision of how to deal with criminals and the revolving door of recidivism. Vulnerable young people were being recruited into crime at ever younger ages. In Moss Side, Liverpool, Newcastle and London, people knew that the Tories could not be trusted on crime and justice. Poorer communities suffered more from the effects of crime, and were abandoned by a succession of Tory Governments who either would not or could not turn things around. It was not only Liverpool that the Thatcher and Major Governments condemned to managed decline.

The hon. Gentleman talks of managed decline and the Thatcher and Major Governments, but will he explain why 80,000 people were released early from prison under the Labour Government? Those people were prosecuted—I was a prosecutor—and judges passed proper sentences, but they were let out early by Ministers. That was totally unacceptable.

I took only two notes when the Lord Chancellor spoke, one of which was on that point. It was a bare-faced cheek for him to talk about the early release of prisoners by some days at the end of their sentences under the Labour Government and then immediately to decry indeterminate sentences for public protection, which ensure that violent and dangerous sex offenders are kept in prison until they are not a danger to the public. Does the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) want to intervene?

The hon. Gentleman can make his point in his own time.

Labour’s legacy was somewhat different from that of the Thatcher and Major Governments. The current Government published statistics that show that over the last Parliament, there was a 43% reduction in first-time youth offenders—down from 107,040 per annum to 61,387. As a result, there was a 34% reduction in offences committed by young people, down from 301,860 per annum to 198,449. As a result of that, there was a 15% reduction in young people in custody, down from 2,830 to 2,418. That trend has continued to date. Those are long-term changes in behaviour, in opportunity and diversion from criminality, not the quick-fix methods of trying to shave numbers off the prison population that the Justice Secretary favours.

Youth offending teams—multi-agency partnerships embedded in local authorities—dealt with young offenders from arrest to court to managing their punishment in the community or the securest date for reintegration. As the teams bedded down in their core statutory functions, the previous Government added prevention work to their remit and resourced them with expertise on gang behaviour and restorative justice. We also gave them considerable latitude for innovation to allow for the development of new ideas and local solutions. At the same time, we created the Youth Justice Board to ensure that places in custody were commissioned efficiently and effectively to co-ordinate best practice among YOTs.

Would the hon. Gentleman care to explain why Labour Administrations, in 13 years, lamentably failed to deal with key prisoner issues such as literacy, numeracy, health and mental health? When we had benign financial circumstances and a growing economy, they failed the general public and prisoners.

That would be a good point, if it were true. My colleagues and I visit prisons and young offender institutions around the country, every week and every month, and see excellent education work, and vulnerable and damaged young people gaining skills. We also see YOTs at work.

“Rehabilitation of Prisoners”, a Home Affairs Committee report from 2004, states that

“47%...of prisoners…spent no time in education and 31%”


“no time in prison work.”

The young lady—the hon. Member—quotes statistics, but she fails to give credit for the steps that were taken and the resources that were put in. I think I had better stop on that point before I say something else I might regret.

As I was saying, the Youth Justice Board and YOTs together ensured that a child-centric approach was embedded in our youth justice system. The Labour Government correctly said that the right way to cut youth offending and the number of young people in the secure estate was to stop them turning to crime in the first place. Labour’s approach was incremental, evidence based and properly resourced.

The Opposition understand that the Lord Chancellor’s reckless promise to lead the austerity charge means 20% cuts to YOTs in one year, but up to 60% cuts to their preventive programmes. We puzzled at the wanton attempt, which was abandoned only at the last hurdle, to abolish the YJB. At least the Government did not seek to abolish the Sentencing Council. I do not know why they did not do so, because it is a recent Labour innovation, and it is transparent and effective, and it gives coherence and yet flexibility to a key area of public policy. I would have thought it was ripe for the chop.

It is worth recollecting the recent history of sentencing policy to see how far we have come in a relatively short time. I do not disagree with the Lord Chancellor on the current operation of the Sentencing Council, but I shall go over its history to show how it developed. Prior to 2004, sentencing guidelines were laid down by the Court of Appeal criminal division in the form of guideline judgments, and beyond that advocates and sentencers were reliant on practitioner texts, primarily Thomas. The texts were effectively sentencing decisions in individual cases accompanied by a more general judicial commentary on sentencing ranges for the type of offence under consideration. In the words of Professor Ashworth, former chairman of the Sentencing Advisory Panel:

“A guideline judgment is a single judgment which sets out general parameters for dealing with several”

variations of a certain

“type of offence, considering the main aggravating and mitigating factors, and suggesting an appropriate starting point or range of sentences…This kind of judgment was pioneered in the 1970s...guideline judgments...set out a fairly elaborate framework within which judges should determine length of sentence…These judgments acquired authority from the fact that the Lord Chief Justice laid them down: they were intended to bind lower courts, and were treated as doing so...the key element is that they were intended and accepted as binding, in a way that most Court of Appeal judgments on sentence are not.”

The Court of Appeal criminal division’s guideline judgments covered both a limited number of specific offences and more general overarching sentencing principles. Guideline judgments were, however, relatively infrequent and by the late 1990s covered only a small proportion of offences.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 created the Sentencing Advisory Panel to solve a problem with the Court of Appeal system. When drafting its judgments, the Court of Appeal was constrained by the material on which reliance could be placed. The Sentencing Advisory Panel, chaired by a distinguished academic lawyer, was established to draft and consult on proposals for guidelines and to refer them back to the Court of Appeal for consideration and, in that way, to inform the issuing of a guideline judgment. The Court of Appeal was not obliged to accept the panel’s recommendations, but in most cases did so, sometimes with modifications.

The important feature was that the laying down of guidelines remained under the control of the senior judiciary. The Sentencing Advisory Panel was launched on 1 July 1999 as an advisory non-departmental public body, its role being to promote consistency in sentencing by providing objective advice to the CACD to assist it in framing or revising sentencing guidelines. The panel consisted of 14 members, including sentencers, academics, those with recent experience of the criminal justice system and lay people with no connection with criminal justice. They reviewed the applicable law and statistics and any relevant research and consulted on proposals before formulating advice. In its first five years of operation, the panel produced draft guidelines on about a dozen offences, which were submitted to the Court of Appeal. The Court acted on all but one of those advices, issuing guidelines in a subsequent decision.

In 2001, the Home Office published the Halliday report, which examined the sentencing framework in England and Wales and concluded that we should go further and set up an independent body—either the Court of Appeal sitting in a new capacity or a new judicial body set up for that purpose. The Government took that recommendation forward in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which established the Sentencing Guidelines Council. The council was established by the 2003 Act and came into effect on 27 February 2004.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for regaling us with a detailed history of sentencing policy development, but would he enlighten us on what happened to “custody plus”, a policy that was introduced in legislation but then dropped because no work was done on how it would be implemented?

I hope I am not boring the hon. Gentleman, who I know takes a keen interest in such matters. Contributions from Government Back Benchers seem ad hoc and based on anecdote. I am setting out how a Labour Government approached policy in a rather more controlled manner. He mentions “custody plus”, but he will be aware—he was a member of the Public Bill Committee on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill—of the terrible confusion that he and his colleagues got themselves into on the question of whether to allow magistrates to sentence for 12-month periods. They first objected to that and then withdrew their objections, so he has not chosen a great example.

The hon. Gentleman touches on another measure the previous Government brought in but never enacted, so that was a very poor example to choose, if I may say so.

At least we were clear in our intent—the hon. Gentleman does not even seem to be clear in that. However, I do not want to have a go at him. While I was listening to the Lord Chancellor, I was reading the evidence Lord Justice Leveson gave to the Select Committee. I was pleased to see that when he sits as a recorder he always fills his forms in properly and submits them to the Sentencing Council. I think he deserves a bonus for that. [Interruption.] I might be telling the hon. Gentleman things he already knows, or he might just not be interested, but I will progress.

In all fairness, the Lord Chancellor said that the Sentencing Council was a good thing to set up and that it was performing a sensible role. The Sentencing Council was set up in 2010 under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The Act replaced the SAP and the SGC with a single unified Sentencing Council. The council’s functions, of which the House should take note, are to promote a clear, fair and consistent approach to sentencing; produce analysis and research on sentencing; work to improve public confidence in sentencing; prepare sentencing guidelines; publish the resource implications in respect of the guidelines; monitor the operation and effect of the sentencing guidelines; prepare a resource assessment to accompany new guidelines; promote awareness of sentencing; and publish an annual report, the first of which we saw last October.

I trace that history to show that, in only 15 years, we have moved from a largely ad hoc system to one that is comprehensive, statute based and already recognised as an asset to the criminal justice system. That process of change has been rapid, but organic. It has required co-operation and open minds among politicians, civil servants and sentencers. Finding a balance between a framework that delivers consistency and transparency, and retaining the discretion and independence of the sentencer, is no easy task, but the stepped process the council adopted permits the best of both worlds.

In his foreword to the first annual report, which was published last October, Lord Justice Leveson rightly says the council is proud of its progress so far. I do not believe we would have had a Sentencing Council without a Labour Government, any more than we would have had a Youth Justice Board or YOTs. I welcome the present Government’s support for all three, however belated.

The annual report came too early for the latest published guidelines, on drugs offences, which were released last week, as the Lord Chancellor said. However, the guidelines are a good example of how an effective and intelligent sentencing regime could operate. They recommended lower tariffs for what are sometimes called drug mules, who, the council noted, are often vulnerable people.

If only to slow the hon. Gentleman down a bit—he is reading very fast—may I ask him a simple question? Does he think domestic burglars should go to jail on virtually all occasions? Is that the Labour party’s policy now?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman is listening, and I will direct my words more to him. He put that question twice to the Lord Chancellor, who made a very reasonable point: the purpose of sentencing guidelines is to identify a framework in which judicial discretion can progress. The question is therefore somewhat nonsensical. There are starting points for sentences, and there are recommended sentences; there are aggravating and mitigating factors, and there is a range of sentences that can be brought in. The Lord Chancellor talks about us commenting on sentences, but the hon. Gentleman seems to want the House to make sentences in individual cases, which is simply not possible.

The point my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) is driving at is Labour party policy on this issue. The Sentencing Council says domestic burglars should ordinarily go to jail. If the Labour party disagrees, why does it do so? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us?

No, the Labour party does not disagree. As I said a moment ago, the Labour party set up the Sentencing Council and believes that thus far—we do not always necessarily agree with everything it does—it has done a good job. I do not see the point of the hon. Gentleman’s comment.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, under the previous Administration, the Sentencing Guidelines Council said that a first-time dwelling-house burglar who was addicted to a drug, and who was susceptible to treatment for that addiction, should not go into custody?

I do not know whether the hon. Lady is still practising—she was practising recently—but she has a slight advantage over me in relation to those issues. However, the point is that we cannot pick and choose. Where I do agree with her, and where I disagree with the Lord Chancellor, is that the public have a role. The idea that they, or indeed the media, do not have a role in expressing their view of sentencing policy is quite wrong; if they did not, we would have no change, be it a liberalisation or an intensification of sentencing policy over the years. It is arrogant to say that they should not have a role. Indeed, in giving evidence to the Select Committee, Lord Justice Leveson said as much. He sees one of his important roles as chair of the council as going in the media to explain things. Yes, he is in despair, as the Lord Chancellor is, when his comments or recommendations are taken out of context and bowdlerised, but he sees that it is important to have the confidence, support and advice of the public, and indeed the media, in these matters.

I was talking about drug mules. The Lord Chancellor has referred to this issue, but it is a good example of where a comment by the Sentencing Council has been taken out of context. The council noted that drug mules are often vulnerable people and victims of exploitation and violent coercion by organised gangs. Disproportionately, they are women, poor and poorly educated, and they are minor beneficiaries of the illegal trade, if they benefit at all. However, the guidelines retain the deterrent effect of a substantial prison sentence, while rejecting the current entry point of 10 years’ custody. They reduce that substantially, but the sentence is still six years.

There are changes in sentencing for the possession or supply of illegal drugs. However, if people make money from selling drugs, they will go to prison; if they deal heroin or cocaine, they will go to prison for a long time; if they deal drugs to children, they will go to prison for a longer period still; and those who take an industrial approach to drug manufacturing and supply can, under the guidelines, expect substantially longer jail sentences than is currently the case. That guidance and clarity is invaluable. By setting standards, it increases the likelihood of the deterrent effect working. It will increase public confidence and increase the confidence of victims in the justice system.

In government, Labour aimed to replace a patch-and-mend system of criminal justice with something more coherent and long term, whether it was a matter of prevention, detection, reassurance, due process—including sentencing—or punishment and rehabilitation. Now, we are going back to patch and mend. To get to the point of sentence, we need a well-resourced police force that can detect and solve crime, but we face 20% cuts to policing numbers. We need effective prosecutors, but we face 25% cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Is the hon. Gentleman making a commitment that a future Labour Government—if there were such a thing—would increase expenditure on policing by 20% and expenditure on justice by a similar amount?

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is committing himself to the coalition in perpetuity in making those comments, but he knows the answer to his question, because the shadow Home Secretary set it out very clearly. We would have made cuts, but we would not have made 20% cuts, and we would not have made the cuts in front-line police officer numbers that are happening everywhere, but particularly, as I can attest, in London.

We need options for judges; we need prison places, which, as we know, are already at crisis level; and we need community sentencing. Every probation service and YOT can name at least one community sentencing project that has had to shut down in the face of cuts, and that is without looking at the cuts in youth services that divert young people away from crime and anti-social behaviour.

The Secretary of State and his Ministers talk a lot about restorative justice, and we have heard about it today. Restorative justice can indeed be transformative justice. As compared with control groups, those sentenced to restorative justice see falls of between 10% and 50% in reoffending. However, despite its success in Northern Ireland, the Government will not resource restorative justice conferencing.

The Opposition support effective alternatives to custody, but where are they? If magistrates and judges do not have the option of, or the confidence in, community punishment, they will be forced to impose custodial sentences. Cutting probation service, YOT and community justice budgets to the extent, and at the speed, that this Government are doing will fatally undermine their plan to reduce detention numbers.

Will the hon. Gentleman answer a direct question? If he is not in favour of a 20% cut in police numbers, and, assuming that he would ring-fence any savings or cuts within the criminal justice system, how would he make up the difference between the 12% cut in police numbers that he would make to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, and the 20% cut that the Government are proposing? Where would that 8% come from in the criminal justice system?

I hope that I have answered all questions directly. The hon. Gentleman is asking about an alternative Budget. He is asking what a Labour Government would do differently. We have made it clear that we would not ask police forces around the country to take a 20% cut. That will result in falling police numbers and an increase in crime, but as always the Lord Chancellor seems completely complacent about the idea that we are in a recession and therefore that crime will go up. We were in a recession in 2008-09 but crime was still falling.

Why, when police numbers in Humberside in 2008 fell by 137, did not a single local Labour politician campaign against the cuts, but instead defend them saying that police numbers did not necessarily have anything to do with crime levels?

I can go a certain distance with the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot get involved in the minutiae of his conflicts with local Labour politicians—he must fight his own battles in his own backyard.

The size of these cuts fatally undermines the coherence and transparency of the sentencing framework. The guidelines might talk about community punishment but we tell our judges, quite properly, to work with due care: they must minimise risk, and if they cannot sentence in the community, they will sentence to the secure estate. For women and children in particular, this is often a tragedy, disrupting families, education and life chances. We have agreed with the Government on those parts of their policy that simplify and rationalise sentencing options, as some of the measures in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill do, but we do not agree when quick and lazy solutions are sought merely to reduce funding. The 50% discount on sentences and the restriction of magistrates’ ability to remand are back-door ways to cut prison numbers, and they put the public at risk.

The Lord Chancellor may be sincere in wishing to reduce the prison population and in seeing effective community punishment both as an alternative to custody and as a better way to reduce recidivism, but there is little or no sign that he knows how to do this or has the resources to do it. The very significant falls in young offenders in custody were not an aberration but the result of applied policies over 13 years. Keeping young people out of the criminal justice system by preventing offending is probably also the most effective way of reducing the adult prison population in the long term, but the scale of cuts to YOTs risks these hard-won gains.

Worse is the Secretary of State’s attitude to dangerous offenders. This is another difficult issue but not one that will be solved by sweeping away IPPs and replacing them with a patchwork of slightly longer tariffs and the bizarre “two strikes and you’re out” policy. Where violent and dangerous criminals and sex offenders are concerned, the public want a “one strike and you’re out” policy.

I started by praising the sentencers and the sentencing framework that Labour introduced, and I noted the successes we had—not least the 43% fall in crime and the introduction of neighbourhood policing—but further improvements in sentencing policy are needed. Last summer’s riots focused an unusual degree of attention on sentencing policy and practice, and questions were raised about the harshness or deterrent effect of some sentences. What should be of equal or more concern, however, was the disparity between sentences in different regions and different courts. Today’s Library debate pack includes statistics showing that a higher percentage of people in black and minority ethnic groups than of white defendants were sentenced to immediate custody for indictable offences.

I wish I had confidence that the Government would deliver the improvements that we still need. Criminal justice policy should throw up a good deal of consensus, not least because effective solutions need continuity across Governments, but that is not what this ministerial team will be remembered for. Instead, they will be remembered for the sabotage of their flagship Bill by the Prime Minister’s press conference shoe-horning a mishmash of measures into the Bill hours before the Lord Chancellor’s statement to the House; for living under the shadow of their own Back Benchers, who are always watchful for a deviation from the “prison works” mantra; and for offering up cuts so deep and so damaging that successful initiatives have no chance of continuing or being replicated.

This is more than a missed opportunity; it is a certain path to decline. It is the opposite of transparency and consistency; it is holding out false hope and muddling through. The Secretary of State is a prisoner of the promises he made to the Treasury, and as the prison population grows towards capacity and further cuts need to be found in the rest of the Ministry’s budget, his options will become more limited. On sentencing, as in so many other areas of public service and public policy, we found a creaking system and left one that worked well. Our legacy, and that of the country, from this Government will be another broken justice system.

I was going to begin by complimenting the previous Government on setting up the Sentencing Council, but given that the Labour spokesman devoted his final paragraph to the cuts, I have to say, before turning to the work of the Justice Committee, that since the Labour party envisages cuts on a similar scale to the Government’s—they might be slightly smaller, but spread over a longer period—we are all talking about the same amount of money. Were there a realistic prospect of removing from the Ministry of Justice the obligation to make significant cuts in expenditure, we could all think of ways of spending the money, but any party confronted with office now would have the problem of funding desirable things out of a shrinking resource of public expenditure. If we can all be realistic about that, we may be able to make more progress on those things that we agree on.

One of the things that we seem to agree on is that the Sentencing Council is a valuable body. The Justice Committee has a statutory role in being consulted on the council’s proposals, as has happened in several cases—a couple of reports are on the Order Paper today, one relating to drugs and burglary and the other relating to assault. Our normal practice is to take detailed evidence, after which I normally write to the chairman of the council, Lord Justice Leveson, on behalf of the Committee, and we publish the letter along with the evidence that we have received. I strongly recommend that Members concerned about the council read the evidence from representatives of bodies such as Victim Support and others who come to hearings and give their views about the impact of sentences and about what they think is appropriate.

We believe that the system works well but faces serious inherent difficulties. On the evidence base, we have drawn attention to a fundamental absence of sufficient empirical evidence on which to base decisions on guidelines—for example, those relating to the cost and effectiveness of specific sentences. This is a general problem for those in the judiciary, be they judges or magistrates. Rarely do they get much evidence on the effectiveness of sentences, still less on the effect of sentences on individuals—unless of course they see the same individuals coming back again and again, having committed further offences. We need to ensure that we have the empirical evidence to provide a realistic basis for decisions about appropriate sentences.

Another problem has been mentioned today: the need to produce guidelines which the general public can understand and which are not simply lawyers talking to lawyers—that was an expression that Javed Khan of Victim Support used in evidence to the Committee. There is a tension between providing guidelines that are reliable and soundly worded—for legal purposes—and enabling the public to understand what the Sentencing Council is doing. It is a challenging task, the importance of which we have drawn to Lord Leveson’s attention. We also encourage Lord Leveson’s efforts in matters of public awareness, to increase public understanding of sentencing and work more effectively with the media, a role that the judiciary did not want to undertake in earlier times, for understandable reasons, but which is now much more widely recognised to be important.

Having referred to the work that we do on the Sentencing Council, I want to address what the purposes of sentencing are. The first purpose in my view—this view is generally shared across the Committee—is public safety and the maintenance of law and order. Therefore, there are people who have to be sent to prison, in some cases for very long periods, because they represent a serious danger to public safety and there is no obvious way of reducing that danger while they are at large. Prison therefore has an important part to play in the system. However, public safety also requires that sentences be imposed that are most likely to prevent further offences and the creation of further victims. The vast majority of people who are sentenced in court will come out again—whether after a short sentence or after a longer sentence—committing further offences and still representing a potential danger to our constituents. In many cases, they will have committed offences for which it would not be reasonable, by comparison with more serious offences, to impose very long sentences; therefore, we have to accept the reality. People will come out of prison, and at the moment, far too many of them come out and commit further offences—often repeat offences—over a number of years, which creates more victims.

The right hon. Gentleman is making a reasoned and moderate contribution, if I may say so. Indeed, he certainly takes a more robust view than many in his party. However, what would he say to the family of my constituent, John Hutchinson, who on 31 October was attacked by a group of feral teenagers, one of whom has subsequently been sentenced to a nine-month referral order, which is effectively a glorified contract promising to be good? My constituent is now having to leave his home and go into institutionalised care. Where is the faith and trust of my constituents in the criminal justice system when such an incident happens, and when they know that that individual is likely to go out and commit further crimes in future?

The hon. Gentleman’s constituent has obviously had a terrible experience, but we should all resist the temptation, in this place and elsewhere, to comment on particular sentences when we do not know all the circumstances in which they were given. If the sentence in a particular case is not appropriate, the Attorney-General has the power to return to the courts and seek a longer sentence, a point that the Lord Chancellor made earlier.

The second purpose of sentencing is deterrence, but the effectiveness of deterrence is often exaggerated. The fact is that when they commit offences, most criminals, first, think that they will not be caught and, secondly, do not have much idea what the sentence will be if they are. Therefore, sentencing is not usually a matter that is firmly in criminals’ minds when they commit offences in the first place. There are many circumstances where the function of deterrence in sentencing is exaggerated. It is there, and it has a role to play. For example, after the public disorder last summer, there was a legitimate reason to believe that unless we made people realise that the offence of theft in the context of public disorder would be treated very seriously, there might be a failure to understand how the courts were going to deal with such matters. There was a deterrence aspect in that case, but there are many offences where deterrence plays no role at all, even though it is one of the legitimate purposes of sentencing.

That brings me to the third purpose of sentencing, which is punishment. Punishment is a wide concept, because it involves the community declaring that it rejects and abhors crime with all its harmful effects. We sometimes fail to understand that purpose of sentencing. One reason why people react as they might have done on reading in the newspaper about the case that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) raised a moment ago is that they think the court has not demonstrated how seriously the community takes a crime of that kind.

I could not agree with my right hon. Friend more. Does he agree that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is currently in the other place, firmly demonstrates the Government’s commitment to that principle in relation to the crimes of sexual exploitation and paedophilia, by clearly saying that two thirds of a sentence must be served and that if somebody goes on to perpetrate another horrendous crime of that nature, they should receive a life sentence?

Yes, but there is also a public safety aspect to the kind of cases that the hon. Lady has described, in that they may involve criminals where the likelihood of their not reoffending is very low and where long, determinate sentences are therefore appropriate. However, the problem with this very necessary part of sentencing is that it can lead to a tension between society declaring very clearly that it will not put up with something and what would be likely to lead to that person not reoffending—I am not thinking of the kind of case to which she has just referred, but a much broader range of crimes.

Understandably, the public read about crimes and compare how different ones are treated by the courts; indeed, we all do that. We want to be sure that the worst crimes are taken the most seriously. Prompted by media reports in particular, the relative seriousness issue tends to be judged according to whether a sentence is a prison sentence and how long it is. Such sentences might not be the right answer for every case, however. The likelihood of reoffending could be greatly reduced in some cases by tackling a drug or alcohol problem, for example. If that is not done, it does not matter how long the person is kept in prison, because they will commit further offences when they come out, fuelled by their problem. The judiciary therefore has to bear in mind all the purposes of sentencing. Considerations of public safety, deterrence and punishment must all inform each decision.

In the light of those principles, we should also consider how the judicial processes work. We want them to enable the most effective sentences to be available and to be applied. As I mentioned earlier in a different context, however, we have a weak evidence base for allowing the judiciary to determine whether sentences have been effective. Few judges are able to tell how the sentences that they have passed have worked out in practice, or whether they have had the desired effect. The exceptions are those cases in which an offender comes back before the court. We need to deal with that evidence problem.

We have also seen a lack of effective management of sentencing and post-release provisions. The Government have set about improving that situation, and the Committee very much welcomes that. We have discussed in some detail the payment by results model and other ways in which the Government have sought to ensure that people coming out of prison have access to provisions that actually work. We cannot achieve that, however, if our prison system is in turmoil. A system in which people are simply shunted around in order to create spaces for other prisoners is the enemy of effective sentence management.

There is an institutional bias in the system in favour of the use of custody, regardless of whether it is the best option. If a judge or magistrate passes a community sentence, the first question has to be, “Are the necessary facilities available in this area?” That applies to residential provision for tackling a drug problem and to the various kinds of community disposal. We have to ask what is available. If a custodial sentence is passed, however, the prison van rolls up outside and the prisoner is taken away. The judiciary can be confident that that will happen, although it might not know where the prison place will be found. The system will find a place somewhere, however, and there is an institutional bias in the system in favour of such disposals.

Custodial sentences and non-custodial sentences are commissioned by different people. The commissioning of custodial sentences is a national function, carried out by the National Offender Management Service largely on a national basis. There is an attempt to provide prison places locally, but in practice, prisoners are often circulated and shunted around. Non-custodial sentences are commissioned much more locally. In the case of youth custody, we have seen how much more effective the process can be when it is handled locally. My Committee has regularly sought to interest this Government and their predecessor in the idea of more local commissioning of custodial and non-custodial disposals, so that a balance can be struck more locally. Clearly, there will still be a need for responsibility to be taken at national level for high-security prisons and other specialised services, but local commissioners could buy into that provision. In many areas, including the health service, this Government and the previous one have seen the value of a separation between commission and provision, and it seems strange that that is still not fully appreciated within the Ministry of Justice.

I want to refer to one of our Committee’s earlier reports, “Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment”, which was published not long before the general election in 2010. It was very well received and is still much quoted, which we find gratifying. The report identified a never-ending cycle of spending money on the punishment of offenders whose crimes we ought to have been able to prevent from happening in the first place. If we had spent the same amount of money on diverting young people away from criminality into positive activity, on education, particularly for those whom the education system has failed, on intervention to deal with problem families and on very early intervention for young children, we could have prevented some of the crimes. Instead, we are spending money on incarcerating the people who committed them.

I very much welcome what the Government are doing—particularly on the latter two issues I have mentioned thanks to the efforts of the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather)—in insisting that even in these straitened times, we must find money for early intervention and early access to education, especially for those in deprived circumstances. I welcome that commitment.

The theme of our report, which has sadly been overtaken in this respect by the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, was that there should be a real resources shift from the custodial system into crime prevention. On this issue, people often say, “You can’t do that because the crime has happened,” but if we do not start in some way to inject and invest money at the stages where people’s propensity to commit crimes begins, we will continue to have to spend more and more money dealing with the consequences of crime.

We had, of course, hoped that financial circumstances might allow the money to start that process moving to come from elsewhere, but they have not allowed that— except to the limited extent to which the Government have been able to invest in early years education. The Ministry of Justice has thus had to find from within its own budget money to spend on more preventive measures. It is not just a matter for the Ministry of Justice, because it also involves the Department for Education, the Department of Health and a whole series of Departments whose expenditure decisions will determine whether some of our constituents are victims of crime in the future. Only to the extent that they divert those most likely to commit crimes away from that course will we achieve the purpose of preventing crime and promoting public safety.

The purpose of the sentencing system, as viewed here from the perspective of parliamentarians, must surely be the protection of our constituents—keeping our constituents safe. We should spend public money on sentences that cut crime rather than on the grim and often devastating consequences of crime. That is the principle towards which I believe all Governments should work, and I hope that this Government will work towards it.

It is an enormous pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), the Chairman of the Justice Committee. I agree with almost everything he said. Many lawyers are present, which is not unusual in the House of Commons, especially on a subject like this one. It is absolutely the right approach to highlight the importance of investing resources on prevention rather than at what happens at the end of the criminal justice system. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, that means early intervention—something that no Government seem prepared to do because it costs money up front, whereas at the moment, our system pays to keep people in prison at astonishing rates in order to punish them, but they often come out of prison and reoffend.

When the Solicitor-General winds up the debate—I understand that he is the Government’s spokesman at the end—I hope he will tell us whether Lord Justice Leveson is still chairing the Sentencing Council, even though he is also—[Interruption.] I am most grateful; the Solicitor-General no longer has to wait for the winding-up speech. We work quickly together, Madam Deputy Speaker, as he is my neighbour in Leicestershire, so we understand each other quite well.

Order. Telepathy is difficult for Hansard to pick up and it is not easy for other Members in the Chamber. It would help if we made that sequence a little clearer.

To make it clear, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) meant that I, not Lord Justice Leveson, was his parliamentary neighbour. I say that in case that does not appear clearly on the record either.

In football terms, that was an instant replay. I am glad that Lord Leveson now chairs the important inquiry into the media. After that is completed, he will start the next inquiry. He must be an incredible chap to be able to chair the Sentencing Council and conduct all these other inquiries. I am glad that he is still there; continuity is important.

Let me go back to the intervention I made at the start of the Lord Chancellor’s speech. He said that the Government would be able to give us more information at the end of the debate on the case that I raised, which has been concluded in the courts. It concerns a group of four al-Qaeda-inspired fundamentalists who admitted planning to send mail bombs to their targets during the run-up to Christmas 2010. Their targets included the Palace of Westminster, the home of the Mayor of London, the Stock Exchange, and other buildings of that kind.

Those defendants participated in what is known as a Goodyear direction, which, as the Lord Chancellor and other Members will know, enables a trial judge to indicate the sentence that will be given if a defendant pleads guilty. I understand that the sentence that is indicated cannot be increased by the judge at the time when the defendants are sentenced.

I have huge admiration and respect for the right hon. Gentleman. However, I dealt with Goodyear indications when I practised as a barrister, and I recall that a judge can refuse to give such an indication. He can say, “This is too severe. If the defendant wants to plead guilty, he can do so; otherwise he can stand trial.” A Goodyear indication can relieve a potential victim of the stress and the ordeal of giving evidence, but ultimately it is a matter for the judge: if he thinks that the sentence is too severe, he will not give a Goodyear indication.

The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced prosecutor, and he knows much more about these matters than I do. Perhaps, given the charges that were levelled against the individuals in the case that I mentioned, the judge ought to have refused the application, but the fact remains that two of the defendants, Mohammed Chowdhury and Shah Rahman, were effectively told by Mr Justice Wilkie that they would be out in six years, because that was what was indicated by the sentence of twelve and a half years that he proposed to give them.

I have raised that case because it came before the court yesterday, because we are debating this issue today, and because I think we should consider the severity of what would have occurred had the matter been brought to fruition.

I do not want to rain on my right hon. neighbour’s parade, but I am afraid that I will not be answering questions of the kind that he has put to me when I wind up the debate. The matter is ongoing. It may well be that the judge has given a Goodyear indication, but he will be sentencing next week, and nothing that I shall say today, or that the right hon. Gentleman will say today, should in any way impinge on the judge’s discretion. The Goodyear direction system is there, and its conduct is circumscribed by fairly strict rules. While the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to make any point that he wishes to make about particular sentences, I think that—as my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said earlier—we would be better advised to leave that particular issue until the sentence has been promulgated. All sorts of implications may flow from that.

I am very happy to take the Solicitor-General’s advice. What I have sought to do is ensure that the issue is looked at, as I hope it will be in future when the sentence is finally determined.

Let me move from the specific to the general. I do not want us to reach a point at which we have plea bargaining in criminal justice, because I think that that would be wholly wrong. The hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) mentioned the riots. I pay tribute to the way in which the criminal justice system operated throughout that period. I well remember going to Horseferry Road magistrates court at midnight and receiving a call from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), who welcomed me. I do not know how he knew that I was going to be there, but somehow he knew that I was looking at the 24-hour courts. Although there was something of a gap because both the practitioners and the defendants had to be brought from police stations, the courts moved very quickly at a time when it was necessary for that to happen.

Although politicians are very wary of trampling on the jurisdiction of the judiciary, the public, and even the Prime Minister, made known their views on sentencing during the riots. The result was that the courts issued sentences that were, on average, more severe than for similar offences committed outside the period of the riots.

I also pay tribute to the Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justice for providing my Committee with so much information. I do not think that we have had so much transparency before, as regards figures relating to the riots being made available. I think it was the Lord Chancellor who told us, in a Select Committee evidence session, that 76% of people who appeared before the courts for offences committed during the riots had a previous conviction. He also told us that for adults, the figure was 80%, and for juveniles it was 62%. It is important, as we look at sentencing and transparency, that figures are made available to Select Committees and Parliament, so that we can have informed views on the issues that we are deliberating.

The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), who has left the Chamber, raised the issue of rehabilitation in her intervention on the Lord Chancellor. One of the most important issues that the Lord Chancellor has raised during his time in office is that of rehabilitation. As the Chairman of the Justice Committee has said, there is no point in just sending people to jail; if one convicted criminal in four reoffends soon after completing their sentence, something is wrong with the way we deal with rehabilitation. Of course people have to go to prison to be punished in certain circumstances, but the prison authorities need the time and space to start the process of rehabilitation.

We have been looking at the roots of radicalisation and will publish a report on the subject on Monday next week. We feel it is very important that when people are incarcerated, those who are able to detoxify—that was the word used in the evidence given to us, and I use it again today—people who have been radicalised have time to do that. One cannot do that in a short period, or without resources; it has to be done over a period of time. We need to ensure that when those people come out, the experience has made a difference to their lives, because at the end of the day it is our constituents who suffer if that is not the case.

This is a good debate, and I hope very much that it will not just be about tougher sentences, because as we all know, 83 of the 134 prisons in this country are classified as overcrowded. If we are to make sure that when people come out, they do not reoffend, we need a criminal justice system that is fit for purpose and able, in the end, to do the one thing that we want it to do: help in the reduction of crime.

These debates on criminal justice matters always resemble a lawyers’ dinner party; it is all very fascinating, but I am not sure that most of my constituents will be entirely impressed with the conclusions drawn from a lawyers’ dinner party. Once again, we have a cosy consensus in this place, and that usually precedes a disaster in public policy. There was the exchange rate mechanism, which all the parties fell over themselves to agree with, and which was, of course, an unmitigated disaster; and the Child Support Agency, which all parties thought was absolutely marvellous, but which, again, ended up a complete disaster. Today, all three parties are falling over themselves to agree on the merits of sending ever fewer people to prison. Once again, we face consensus, which is a disaster.

I am sometimes misunderstood, so I should say at the start that I think the Secretary of State for Justice is a great man. He would be a greater man, however, if he was in charge of a different Department. That should not be misconstrued as my lobbying for him to become the Minister for Europe, by the way, but I do think his talents would be better used in another Department.

We have had a sterile debate on this issue for far too long. I believe that the first duty of any Government is to protect the public. There has been a long-running debate in which people are characterised as belonging to one of two separate camps: the camp that believes in prison, and the camp that believes in rehabilitation. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) seemed to reinforce that view towards the end of his speech, and it is a false division. I believe in sending people to prison; I also believe in rehabilitating people while they are in prison, and I do not see why a difference should be seen between the two. We must have a more sensible and nuanced debate.

There are two myths about the criminal justice system—first, that we send far too many people to prison; secondly, that prison does not work—and I want to try expose them both. The liberal elite are always conditioning us to believe that we send too many people to prison, but according to figures provided by the House of Commons Library, for every 1,000 crimes recorded in the UK, we send 17 people to prison. That compares with 29 in Ireland and 31 in Spain—in fact, virtually every other country in the European Union sends more people to prison for every 1,000 crimes committed than we do. Of course, in America they send more than 200 people to prison for every 1,000 crimes committed. People may mock, but they have a crime rate that is less than half the UK’s.

I got the House of Commons Library to produce an interesting piece of evidence showing the prison population per 1,000 crimes committed, and the crime rate, in 45 different countries around the world. Obviously, there was not an exact correlation, but it was striking how close it was. The countries with the highest prison population also had the lowest crime rate. That really should not come as a great shock to people, because to be perfectly honest, most of the public would think it blindingly obvious that the more criminals we send to prison, the fewer we have on the streets committing crimes. It is blindingly obvious to everybody—apart, it seems, from the cosy consensus of the three major parties in this country.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made the case again today that crime goes up when we have an economic recession and down when we have a boom. I asked the Library to test that theory, too, and it produced a graph showing the crime rate, prison population and gross domestic product in this country since the war. There is a striking, remarkably close correlation between the prison population and the crime rate: as the former goes up, the latter tends to go down. There is absolutely no correlation whatsoever between GDP and the crime rate, so that is an absolute myth. It might seem logical to think that such a comparison exists, but all the evidence from the Library shows absolutely no link whatsoever.

I would argue not that there are too many people in prison but too few. Of course, under the previous Government and the end of custody licence scheme, 81,578 prisoners were released early, including 16,000 violent offenders, 1,234 of whom went on to commit 1,624 new offences—including at least three murders— during the time when they would normally have been locked up. That is 1,624 unnecessary victims of crime as a result of having fewer criminals behind bars.

A district judge told me about a bizarre situation that arose. On a Saturday morning, he sentenced somebody to six weeks in prison for theft. Three days later, on the Tuesday morning, the very same person came before him, having already committed another crime, despite having been sentenced to six weeks in prison just three days earlier. I asked how on earth that was possible. The judge explained that only half such a sentence is served, which automatically brought the sentence of six weeks—or 42 days—down to 21 days. Everybody was being released 16 days early, so that brought it down to five days. The individual in question had spent five days on remand before his trial, so, despite having been sentenced to six weeks in prison, he was let straight out. What an absolutely farcical situation. It is an utter farce and then we wonder why nobody in this country has any confidence in the criminal justice system.

The Government’s policy is also based on a premise which we heard again from the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith)—the idea, which we are encouraged to believe, that it is so easy to be sent to prison in this country. A myth has built up that someone can commit a minor offence and will be mopped up by the police, marched straight to the courts and, without a by-your-leave, sent to prison. If only that were the case. I would love to live in such circumstances, but it is far from the case. In the real world, people commit crime after crime and go to the magistrates court where they are given community sentence after community sentence until, eventually, a magistrate or district judge gets bored and finally says, “I have no other option, I have sent you on every possible programme going and I now have to send you to prison.” That is what happens in this country despite what the right hon. Gentleman said.

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has a look at the evidence given by two ex-offenders who appeared before the Justice Committee during our probation inquiry, who both told us separately that their community sentences were extremely demanding, that they were fed up with them and that they had committed further crimes to get into prison, where they got three square meals a day and had much less to do.

They must have had to commit an awful lot of crimes to get themselves into prison, because it is very difficult to get sent to prison in this country.

Let me emphasise the point. In 2009, according to the Ministry of Justice, 2,980 burglars and 4,677 violent offenders with 15 or more previous convictions were still not sent to prison. Today, the Secretary of State was saying that if someone commits a burglary they should expect to go to prison. In one year, however, 2,980 burglars with 15 or more previous convictions still were not sent to prison, which seems rather to defy the message that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is trying to give.

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there are prisons, secure children’s homes and independent institutions where people, on their release, knock on the door begging to be taken back in? Those settings were the only place in which they received the care and support that they needed to be a meaningful member of the local community on their release. Does he share my concern?

I share many of my hon. Friend’s concerns and I am certainly concerned that many people are anxious to get back into custody. There are an awful lot of reasons for that, one of which he has given. Some might argue that another reason why people are so keen to get back into prison is that their quality of life in prison is far better than their quality of life outside prison. When 4,070 prisoners enjoy the luxury of Sky TV in their cells—not even in a communal area—we know that something is fundamentally wrong with our criminal justice system.

Could it not be that the quality of their life outside prison is so utterly miserable that even life behind bars is preferable to the dreadful life that they live in the community?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have this wretched organisation, HM inspectorate of prisons, the members of which come down from their nine-bedroom mansions in Oxfordshire, go around the prisons and say, “Oh, it’s jolly awful in here, isn’t it? Absolutely terrible.” If those same people came from the same crime-ridden estates that people in prison tend to come from, they would probably say, “It’s jolly nice in here.” There is rather a big disconnect between the backgrounds of the people in prison and of these do-gooders, the prison inspectors.

As one of those do-gooders—I realise that that might be a matter of concern to my hon. Friend—may I ask whether he has any proposals on how we could improve local authority accommodation for young people, for example, to ensure that the communities where they live are safer for them than a secure custodial setting? What positive proposals does he have in addition to his House of Commons research?

My positive proposal appears to have escaped my hon. Friend. I think I am right in saying that he is a member of the new 301 group, which I thought referred to the number of seats we had to win at the next election; I did not realise it was the target for the number of people we should have in prison, which seems to be the approach advocated. What about the quality of life of many law-abiding people in this country? We talk about the rights of criminals, but what about speaking up for the law-abiding people who think that their quality of life would be improved if more people were sent to prison in the first place? Not only are all those people not being sent to prison, but we still have a system in which someone who goes to court with 100 previous convictions behind them is still more likely not to be sent to prison than to be sent to prison. How on earth can we have a criminal justice system in which that is the case?

I yield to no one in my admiration for my hon. Friend’s force of argument, but I query that last statistic. I have been looking at a sentencing survey that was conducted in relation to the Crown court for the six months from October 2010 to spring 2011, which says that 78% of offenders with 10 or more previous convictions were going straight into custody. That may not be the 100% he would like but it is a pretty hefty statistic by any reckoning, is it not?

I think my hon. Friend is very good friends with Ministry of Justice Front Benchers and I suggest that he ask them some parliamentary questions, because those are the answers they have given. To be as helpful as possible, I will furnish him with the parliamentary answer that shows that people with 100 previous convictions behind them are still more likely not to be sent to prison than to be sent to prison. He might wish to take this up with his hon. Friends on the Front Bench.

I was shocked to receive a parliamentary answer showing the number of people who were given cautions for indictable offences, which are the most serious category of criminal offence and include murder, wounding with intent, abducting children and arson. That answer showed that 22 rapists, 24 people convicted of arson and 140 people convicted of unlawful intercourse with a girl under 16 have been given a caution. Bearing in mind the fact that cautions are given on admission of guilt, how on earth can we have a situation in which those people are not being sent to prison and are merely handed a caution? The Government are completely out of step with public opinion, particularly those highlighted in the Populus poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft, which showed that 80% of the public said that sentencing was too soft and that 70% called for life imprisonment to be made much harder.

There is this wrong idea that community sentences are far more effective at reducing reoffending and are also cheaper, but I want to point out that a Home Office survey found that the number of crimes committed per offender in the year before they were sent to prison averaged out at 140—or 257 for those on drugs. The typical cost calculated for those crimes was £2,000 each, which works out at £280,000 a year, in comparison with an estimated cost of £38,000 for a prison place, so perhaps we ought to think about what is most cost-effective.

In 2008, offenders who had completed a community sentence went on to commit a further 250,000 crimes in the 21 months following their sentence, 1,500 of which were serious offences including murder, rape and robbery. As I mentioned to the Secretary of State earlier this week, in 2008-09 some 6,600 people whom the probation service deemed to be high risk or very high risk were serving community sentences.

Then there is the myth that prison does not work. The reoffending rates for people serving short-term sentences is higher than any of us would like, but I have been to lots of prisons in the past 12 months, probably about a dozen—I even visited one in Denmark to see what they do there—and I argue that prison does work. It could probably work better but it does work. As I made clear in my earlier intervention, the longer people spend in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend. If prison itself was the problem, the longer people stayed there the more likely they would be to reoffend, but the opposite is true. I have given the figures: for people who spend less than 12 months in prison, the reoffending rate is 61%; for those spending 12 months to two years in prison it is 36%; for those spending two to four years in prison it is 28%; and for those spending four years or more in prison it is 17.6%.

Professor Ken Pease has used Home Office statistics to show that 13,892 offences resulting in conviction could have been prevented if offenders serving short sentences had been kept in prison for an extra month. That suggests an argument for sending people to prison for longer, rather than for not sending them to prison at all. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State complained, rightly, about the previous Government’s early-release programme that let people out of prison 16 days early, but the solution should not be not sending them to prison at all, which is what he seems to be advocating now.

When people are in prison we must try to rehabilitate them, but I do not understand why rehabilitation has to occur in the community. I have been arguing about this for quite a while with my Front-Bench colleagues. I should like a system modelled on the TBS programme that has been operating in Holland for many years. It treats prisoners with a personality disorder, of whom there are a large number in our prisons, and has achieved low reoffending rates. People are treated in prison, which is much easier because they do not have so many distractions—they cannot go off and do other things. In prison, they can be given proper targeted support, which is much harder when they are out of prison.

I very much support the Secretary of State’s promoting a stronger work ethic in prison. When I go round prisons, I am appalled by the lack of work ethic. Many prisoners are from families that have never worked; they are often the third generation who have never worked. Surely, one of the things we can do for them in prison is to get them into a proper disciplined routine so that they get up at a certain time in the morning and carry out tasks that get them into a work ethic. My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to do that.

A study by Frances Simon in 1999 followed 178 prisoners until five months after their release. She found that 75% of those who had not sought regular work reoffended compared with only 28% of those who were actively looking for work and 15% of those in regular employment. That shows that even the discipline of going out and looking for a job can make a big difference to reoffending rates. Prison has to be the prime place where some of those people are given the discipline of a work ethic.

I think the Government are making a huge mistake about indeterminate sentences for public protection. Earlier today, my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) cast doubt on Ministry of Justice figures, but I trust my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. According to those figures, by the end of the 2010 calendar year, 206 people serving indeterminate sentences had been released from prison. Of those, only 11 had reoffended—a rate of about 5%, from my quick calculation. The criminal justice system as a whole would give its right arm for a reoffending rate of 5%.

If the Government are so obsessed with reoffending—the Secretary of State has said that he is—why on earth do they want to give up the part of the criminal justice system that probably has the lowest reoffending rate? It goes to show that the Secretary of State is not really preoccupied with the reoffending rate; he is preoccupied with reducing the number of people he sends to prison. That cannot be the right course of action and it is certainly not something that my constituents want.

I am sorry to intervene just after my hon. Friend and I were warmly agreeing on the need to get a working environment in prisons. I can tell him that I had an excellent meeting this morning at the CBI, with leading figures from British business and the Prison Service, and we are making progress. On that we are totally agreed. With great respect, the figures my hon. Friend uses for IPPs are, unlike some of his other statistics, not very reliable. A tiny number of people have been released from IPPs, so to make a comparison between the very small sample he cites and the very large numbers he was using earlier is ever so slightly misleading. Most people imprisoned under IPPs have not been released and do not know when they will be released. There is an enormous backlog of cases for the Parole Board, which is wondering what to do with them.

The figures my right hon. and learned Friend dismissed are the ones supplied by his Department. All I can do is give the figures as they are. They indicate that of the 206 people who have been released having served an IPP sentence, only 11 have reoffended. It is up to hon. Members to draw their own conclusion from those figures. The principle that we should not release people from prison until it is safe to do so strikes me and my constituents as a rather good one to have in the criminal justice system. His suggestion that we should release people from prison regardless of whether it is safe to do so seems rather bizarre.

If my hon. Friend does not mind, I will make some progress, because many other Members wish to speak and I want to draw my remarks to a close.

My final point is on the automatic release of offenders halfway through their sentence, which is one of the shameful things the previous Government sneaked through in the last Parliament. Prisoners are now not just eligible for release halfway through their sentence; they are automatically released. I think that that is a terrible situation. When I visited Denmark, whose criminal justice system is always seen as very liberal, I found that they do not have that system. They have the system we used to have, whereby prisoners became eligible for release halfway through their sentence. In fact, 30% of their prisoners were refused parole altogether and served the full sentence handed down by the courts, and they think that that is one of the major reasons why they had such low reoffending rates. I urge the Secretary of State not to have a system where we automatically release prisoners willy-nilly halfway through their sentence and irrespective of their behaviour in prison or their risk of reoffending. We should make proper judgments about people’s fitness for release before we agree to release them. I think that we can learn from Denmark in that regard.

Having worked with and represented many victims of crime and their families, I know that what they find most upsetting and offensive is when a sentence that they feel is just or suitable for the perpetrator of a crime is halved, which they say is an extra insult. In the case of a family I represent, the halving of a sentence is a double blow on top of the murder of their child.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She does a great deal of work representing victims charities, such as Families Fighting for Justice, and should be commended for it.

With regard to transparency in sentencing, it cannot be transparent for people to be handed down a particular sentence when we know that in reality they will serve only half of it. I believe that honesty in sentencing should be introduced and that if someone is sentenced to 10 years in prison they should serve it. If I go down to my local pub and ask someone, “Did you hear that someone got 10 years in prison?”, the first thing they are likely to say is, “Well, they’ll be out in five minutes, and it’s a waste of time anyway.” That is one of the main reasons why people have so little confidence in the criminal justice system.

The primary role of the criminal justice system should be to achieve justice, not to find the cheapest alternative to sentencing or reduce the number of prisoners because prisons are reaching capacity. The Government’s job is to provide the right number of prison places for the people the courts deem it right to send to prison, not to introduce Bills designed to reduce the number of people being sent to prison in order not to exceed capacity. If the number of school children in this country increases, we do not say, “Well, this is the number of school places, so tough; everyone else can go to the local phone box to be educated.” No, we build more schools to provide school places, and the same should apply to prisons. If more criminals need locking up, we should build more prisons. The public need to feel protected, the perpetrators need to know that they will be punished properly and the victims of crime need to feel that justice has been done, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) made clear.

I fear that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is taking our party and this country in the wrong direction. Notwithstanding his excellent idea about work ethic in prisons, I believe that his sentencing policy is in danger of single-handedly losing the party its hard-won reputation as the party of law and order. More importantly, it is in danger of creating more unnecessary victims of crime.

It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I do not agree with every word he said, but he made some pertinent and correct points about honesty in sentencing. Perhaps I may add a further scenario to his list. I worked for the Courts Service, where I found that, for example, somebody could appear before magistrates on a Friday and receive seven days’ imprisonment for a fine default. However, as the sentence was automatically halved, and as the weekend counted in their favour and they could not be released during that time, the prison van would throw them out before they even got to prison. A person can be sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment and not spend a minute inside, and it is such dishonesty that, as my hon. Friend pointed out, angers many members of the public.

We all want consistency in sentencing, but we must recognise that we will never completely achieve that because it is impossible. No two offences are identical and there will always be differences in approach. As long as courts have discretion, there will be variation in how they deal with similar matters. If we remove that discretion, however, injustices will inevitably occur.

Members of the public view similar offences in differing ways, and we should not be surprised that often the judiciary will do the same. We want our judiciary to mirror the public, and just as the public have differing opinions about different types of offences, such variation can be reflected in our court houses. We need some consistency of approach, some basic similarities in decision making, and guidelines to help ensure that courts treat similar aggravating and mitigating circumstances comparably. We should never, however, be tempted to adopt a system that lacks discretion, flexibility, or the freedom to differentiate.

We need a degree of certainty, but not an over-prescriptive approach that removes a court’s discretion. For example, a defendant who has entered a guilty plea can expect to receive a reduction in their sentence of about one third. The court, however, should be free to increase or reduce that discount, as it deems appropriate.

In the magistrates courts, the principle of local justice administered locally has served us extremely well for centuries. Some offences are frowned on more in one area than in another, and local justices of the peace are best positioned to clamp down on an offence that is prevalent in a particular area. Although that system inevitably leads to an imbalanced approach across the country, in such instances a variable approach can be a positive thing.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley pointed out, justice must always be the primary goal in the judicial system. If we were to replace judges, magistrates and jurors with computers, we would have a more consistent approach—there is no doubt about that—but we would also have less justice. Whenever people deal with cases, there will inevitably be discrepancies in how they view the facts placed before them.

About 20 Acts of Parliament have changed sentencing practice over the past decade, and it is perhaps not surprising that our system is often confusing and unnecessarily complex. Perhaps an overarching approach is needed, not a series of ad hoc measures to amend the current system.

The system need not be unduly complicated. Sentences are normally straightforward, but the processes behind them are often baffling and confusing, and can lack the transparency that this debate is trying to find. The maxim that justice must be done and be seen to be done is as necessary now as it has ever been. Yet nowhere can the term “six months”, for instance, have so little correlation to that actual period as in a court of law. I have spent more than 20 years working in the criminal justice system, and I have lost count of the number of times I have seen defendants turn to their advocate as soon as they are given a term of imprisonment and ask, “How long is that? How long does that actually mean for me? I have been told it is 10 years, but how long does that mean?” Sentences should be closer to the term specified, and there should be far more transparency and honesty in sentencing. It undermines the courts, the police and victims if the sentence that a prisoner serves bears no relation to the term that he has been given in court.

There are so many early release schemes that I know of no lawyer who can accurately tell a defendant how long a sentence will equate to in actual time served. It is simply too complicated. When a formula is needed to work out how much of a sentence a prisoner will actually serve, we know that there is something wrong with our system. That is precisely what happens now. The discipline departments in prisons have to apply a formula to a sentence to work out what somebody’s earliest possible release date is. That highlights the problem in our current system.

Sentences are one thing, but there are many other things for the courts to consider. There is no merit in having an inconsistent approach to the enforcement of court orders. We should not have one criterion for enforcing community sentences in the midlands and another for the south, and fine defaulters should not be treated differently in one part of the country from another. Prison overcrowding in one area should not mean an earlier release for prisoners there than for those in other areas. However, for general sentences, we should allow some differences. We have to allow local courts to have a certain amount of flexibility. The message should go out from this House that this debate is not about controlling the courts but about delivering fairness for all. We should not micro-manage the courts but allow clarity to flourish more. Minimum sentences for gun possession have worked, not just because of the certainty and deterrence that they have provided but because courts retain an element of discretion.

In short, we need to get the right balance, and in doing so we need to strive for a court system that allows certainty in sentences, flexibility in process and fairness in outcomes to prevail.

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson). I agreed with many of the points that he so ably made based on his experience. It is easy to joke about the profusion of lawyers taking part in debates such as this, but in reality many of us stopped practising only within the past two years, before we came to this place. We therefore bring with us an abundance of experience and knowledge, especially those of us who were at the criminal Bar and both prosecuted and defended, which gave us an insight into cases from both perspectives. That is a great feature of the criminal Bar and, I hope Members will concur, adds to our ability to bring real experience and hopefully insight to this important debate.

I shall put my cards on the table. I practised at the criminal Bar for some 16 years until my election, and I am very proud of that. I should perhaps not put this too strongly, but it was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable jobs I have ever done, for all manner of reasons. As a member of the criminal Bar I defended far more than I prosecuted.

I should like to put it on record that I find it most peculiar that the Labour party, certainly in my constituency, seems to think it should criticise me for standing up in the House and talking about the law, particularly the criminal law. Often, I speak in defence of not only my own profession but solicitors, who are suffering in a way they have never suffered before due to the reduction in legal aid. I find it perverse that the Labour party attacks people such as me in those circumstances. It professes to be the party of the poor, the repressed, the deprived and some of the most needy in our society, but it is those very people whom so many at the criminal Bar and solicitors have represented for a long time, often with very little reward.

When I joined the criminal Bar, somebody said to me, “You are going to be a social worker wearing a wig.” Those of us who have been at the Bar or worked as solicitors and who have defended criminals will know from experience how often we go beyond the fee—and it is not a very great fee. We know how often we have given a fiver or £10 to clients who have no money in their pockets so that they can get home when they find themselves in the fortunate position—my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) will despair at this point—of not going into custody when they thought they might receive a prison sentence.

I once gave a client £10 so that he could catch the train back to Worksop. This perhaps shows my naivety. I took him to Nottingham railway station and assumed he would spend the money I had given him on his ticket. In fact, he went off and bought a large amount of heroin and was arrested by the police. Hon. Members can imagine my reaction when I found out what he had done with the money.

I digress from the subject of the debate, but I want to make the point that the criminal justice system could not operate without the Bar and solicitors who often go that extra mile, often at their own expense, to ensure that it works properly. I fully understand and appreciate that the legacy we have inherited means we have no option than to reduce the amount that goes into the legal aid pot, which means that members of the criminal Bar are seeing a reduction in their fees—that is in the context of having had no genuine increase since 1997. I know the Government can do nothing about that at the moment, but when the time comes we must ensure that those who do legal aid work are properly remunerated. It could be said that I have diverged from the subject of the debate, but I wanted to make that point.

Consistency in sentencing can be truly achieved only when the following occurs. It starts at the beginning. To achieve consistency in sentencing, we must ensure from the outset that there is a proper and full investigation of the allegation. That means that witness statements must be properly taken and that all relevant evidence must be properly gathered. A constituent who has come to me has quite properly complained following an assault allegation—she was the victim. She suffered cuts that required stitching to her face and a broken jaw, but the police did not collect her medical records despite the fact that she had signed the right form. She has now been told that the police are going to make the charge “common assault”. On the basis that what she told me is true, it is clear that the charge should be either for wounding or for a section 20 offence, or perhaps for an even greater offence. It was not a common assault, and it is clear that the police did not do a proper job in their investigation and in ensuring that all relevant evidence was available, which is important not just for the progression of the case, but so that the sentencing judge can pass the right sentence. In order to do that, we need to ensure that there is a full and proper investigation from the outset and that the right charge is reached. We also need to ensure that witness statements are properly taken, which includes, if appropriate, a victim impact statement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said that the previous Administration were overly prescriptive and mandatory—a long-standing complaint of many of us about their conduct of the criminal justice system. I do not want police officers to go out with a checklist of all the things they must do when they take a witness statement. I want them to be properly trained to be able to rely on their own plain common sense. I do not want them to be overly prescriptive and certainly not stereotypical.

In his statement the other day, the Secretary of State talked about the changes we intend to make to the compensation scheme. This might be difficult to understand, but he quite properly mentioned the fact that not all victims of crime look at the crime in the same way. I have been burgled more times than I care to remember; in some instances, that did not have a particularly upsetting effect on me, and I would be the first to say that, but on one occasion it upset me greatly because my grandmother’s engagement ring was stolen. I do not know the value of the ring, and it does not really matter; what mattered to me was my sentimental attachment to that piece of jewellery. On another occasion when my home was broken into, I found it distressing that somebody had been through items of a very personal nature in my study. On another occasion, nothing much was particularly disturbed, so the trauma, or the effect, was not as great. However, we cannot say everybody will be the same, because, as we all know, crimes come in all different shapes and sizes, and they affect each and every one of us differently.

Did the hon. Lady welcome, as we on the Select Committee did, the fact that the Sentencing Council was prepared to treat burglary as an offence against the person, as well as against property?

Absolutely. If I may say so, there was so much I agreed with in the right hon. Gentleman’s speech. From my short time on the Select Committee, I know he brings a huge weight of experience and plain, good common sense to his chairing of the Committee. I absolutely agree with what he says.

To be frank, I would never stand up and say we definitely want to keep the Sentencing Council. I know some of us disagree about this, but I always thought the Court of Appeal was a good place to determine the issues we are discussing, and I could see no good reason why that should not continue. However, we are where we are.

What we do know—this has already been mentioned—is that the sentencing judge will look at the aggravating and mitigating features in relation to every offence. It is therefore important that when the police go out and take witness statements, they make sure everything that should be in them is in them so the judge can pass the right sentence. If items of great sentimental value are stolen in dwelling-house burglaries, for example, that is an aggravating feature.

The same is true of trashing or ransacking the property, and of inducing fear in a particularly vulnerable person. One of the burglaries I suffered was at night-time, and my children were of an age where they were very frightened. They thought—this is common among children who have the misfortune to have their homes burgled at night—that the person would come back, and they were in fear of that. Such things must be in the witness statements so the judge can pass the right sentence. That will give us the consistency we want.

One of the things that is extremely annoying for somebody who has been the victim of a car crime is the fact that they lose their no claims bonus. There is also the huge inconvenience caused by the fact that their car has a broken window and that they will not be able to use it because it has to go off to the garage. Again, those are important aggravating features.

In offences of violence, there can be an assessment of the physical scarring that might remain, and of the pain and suffering the victim might have been caused, but their mental anguish must also be set out in detail so that the proper sentence can be passed.

I would go further and say that when police officers go out to get statements from witnesses, they should include in them the effect of a particular crime on the witness. The classic example is somebody who witnesses a fight in the street, which might be a particularly violent and unpleasant incident. That will have an effect on the witness, and if it does, it should be in the witness statement.

At the heart of good, consistent and transparent sentencing is an overriding and underlying belief in the fact that we should trust our judges. I say that with absolute certainty in one respect: if I had not come to this place, I would undoubtedly never have been made a judge. I am not, therefore, making these comments to curry favour with any judge. Hon. Members may not find this surprising, but the reason I would not have become a judge is that I fell out with so many judges.

The Solicitor-General makes an unfortunate intervention, because I did indeed have the great pleasure of appearing in front of him—I was going to reference him slightly later—and we certainly did not fall out. No doubt, though, some of his brother and sister judges would say that that was because I appeared in front of him only twice, and that had I done so several times, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

One of the problems that occurred under the previous Administration was that they began not to trust judges enough, which was a terrible mistake. My attitude is this: I would give the judges the powers that they need and then leave them to exercise their discretion. At the end of the day, most judges come to the bench after many years in practice—usually in the discipline in which they sit in judgment. I said that I was going to mention the Solicitor-General, and I know that he has sat as a recorder in the criminal division, even though that was not his area of practice. I am not trying to curry favour with him, but the fact is that many recorders do not come from the criminal Bar and did not work as criminal solicitors but nevertheless have the great ability and skills required to act in just as brilliant a way as any other judge who was at the Bar for 15 or 20 years. [Interruption.] I am glad to see him nodding in approval.

The point is that with few exceptions our judges are outstanding, having practised at the highest level and coming to the position after years of experience on the basis that they have the ability to exercise good and wise judgment. That is why, with few exceptions, I trust them, and those of us who have practised know that if a judge makes a mistake, the case can be referred to the Court of Appeal.

Our judges have training, and I give full credit to the previous Government for something that I noticed at the criminal Bar: a huge shift in judges’ attitude towards what we call domestic violence—an unfortunate term, because it is normally violence against women by somebody with whom they are either in a relationship or have been in a relationship. Undoubtedly, when I returned to the Bar about 18 or 19 years ago, some senior members of the Bar and judges just saw domestic violence as a bit of a domestic scuffle and not something to be dealt with or viewed as seriously as it is now. I give full credit to the work undertaken by the previous Government in that respect. I certainly saw a sea change among the judiciary, which was no longer going to tolerate any man even slapping his partner or previous partner. I saw that on a regular basis in the Crown courts in which I had the great pleasure to appear, and I give the previous Government full credit for that. That should give us confidence that our judges are properly trained and are more than able to pass the right sentences, as long as we trust them and enable them to use their discretion.

That, of course, was one of the great failings of IPPs. These sentences, introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to deal with defendants deemed to be dangerous, sounded like, and were, a very good idea. What could be more sensible than providing that a paedophile who had sexually assaulted a child and who had done the same thing previously would not only be sentenced for the outrage that they had committed against a child but that there would be a report on him—invariably it was a “him” as opposed to a “her”—specifically looking at whether he would pose a danger even after completing the determinate part of his sentence? If the report revealed that he had delusions and fantasies of a particularly vile and alarming nature, it was thought only right and proper that he be in custody, in prison, not just for the offence that he had committed but for the protection of the public—in this case, children—at large, because he posed a clear and obvious danger to those children.

In theory, therefore, the idea was wonderful. Many of us approved and agreed with the theory; however, I do not think that the legislation was ever properly looked at—I fear I am criticising both sides of the House for that. Indeed, we talked about the idea in robing rooms at the criminal Bar, and as we thought about it more, and then as it was rolled out, we could see its profound shortcomings. Because it was overly prescriptive, judges effectively had no discretion, so people were sent to prison—quite properly, because they had committed a serious offence—but then found themselves in custody with no time limit on their sentences and no idea when they might be released, on the basis that they were supposedly dangerous. However, that was often because the judge had no alternative but to making that finding, when the offender was clearly not dangerous in the terms that they have should been, as the sort of offender that I have described. Not only did those in custody not know when they were going to be released, but there were no courses and no proper treatment available for them. None of the things that should have been done to drill down into their offending were done, so people were literally—and still are—languishing in prison. With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, I find it perverse that Opposition Front Benchers should agree with that aspect. For a party that has always prided itself on the liberty of the individual and the rights of the prisoner, it is absolutely wrong to support a system that has people languishing in prison, year after year, without the treatment that they need.

I am pleased to agree with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) when, on occasion, he is right, but I do not exactly follow the hon. Lady’s argument. Is she saying that she objects to IPPs in principle or only to how they are working? If it is the former, we have a disagreement; if it is that IPPs have not worked perfectly, I would say that we made omissions in that respect. I advise her to have a look at the Government’s response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights report on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill yesterday—which dealt with the point in detail—where the Government assert that they have resolved most of the problems with the administration of IPPs. If that is the case—and if she supports her own Government—why is she not now supporting them?

I am grateful for the information, and I will go away and look at it, but IPPs have just not worked. The legislation was flawed. Indeed, it was so flawed that after its introduction in 2003 there was a huge growth in the prison population. What did the then Government do? Did they take an honest approach and revisit their legislation, or did they take a different, simplistic approach and say, “Goodness me! There are too many people in prison. How can we bring the numbers down?”? They effectively amended the 2003 Act with fresh legislation in 2008, which made the situation even more perverse and wrong. What the then Government introduced in 2008 was a system whereby a finding of dangerousness could not be reached for someone who would not have got four years for their offence. Let me set out what that meant. I know of a case, which I worked on myself, where the trigger offence that had brought the offender—a man who was clearly a paedophile—before the sentencing judge did not warrant more than nine months to one year. I will not bore hon. Members with the details, but the judge was able to the look at the various reports on that man, which clearly showed that he was a danger to children, and he rightly decided on an IPP. However, after the Government changed the law in 2008, somebody like that man would now serve four and a half to six months, when that is exactly the sort of person who should be behind bars for a very long time.

I have some sympathy with the idea that people should not be languishing in prison, not doing anything for years and years and not knowing when they might be released. However, surely my hon. Friend would agree that it is far better to say to somebody, “You will be released only after you have done something to address your offending behaviour,” to give them an incentive to do so, as an IPP does, than just saying, “You’ll be released after a certain period halfway through your sentence, irrespective of whether you’ve done anything to address your offending behaviour or not.”

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and agree with him in this sense. It is not right for people for stay in prison without courses or the assistance that they need to address their offending, so that they can be released when they are no longer a danger. That is absolutely right. The problem is that those courses were certainly not provided by the previous Administration. As for release halfway through a sentence, I am very much with my hon. Friend on that for a number of reasons that other hon. Members have already discussed. I would like us to reach a situation whereby the judge can make it absolutely clear when sentencing how long somebody will spend in prison, which might involve changing the wording. If a judge says, “I am passing a sentence of two years; you will serve only one,” it immediately undermines confidence, particularly that of the victim, in the criminal justice system.

I accept the difficulties that we have with the budget, but I would like us to be in a position in which a person is given a sentence and serves that sentence. Perhaps the parole board might see fit to release them early if they make remarkable progress while serving their sentence, as happens with community sentences. In those cases, if someone is making good progress, the probation officer can go back to the court and ask for the sentence to be shortened. The person can then be released from the sentence, because the job has been done. I would like to see that happening. The present situation is a hangover from the previous Administration. Judges have been told, “You’ve got to say this. You must say that. This is the formula.” It is all too prescriptive. I want to see greater consistency and greater transparency; we need to trust our judges.

I hope that I have made it clear that I support the Government’s reforms, including the abolition of the IPP, and the new system that we want to introduce. I also want to make this point on transparency. I will be absolutely frank: I have always been deeply cynical about the introduction of television cameras into courts. However, I have been persuaded otherwise by the Stephen Lawrence trial, as it is called. The judge had allowed members of the press to tweet from the press gallery in the court, and that allowed people to be informed in a very positive way. I have also been surprised by the number of my constituents who have gone to the trouble to read not only the sentencing remarks in full but a further interlocutory matter that the judge had dealt with in relation to the evidence. Reading that material from beginning to end had a profound effect on the way in which they have perceived the case and on their understanding of the sentences.

On the basis that any televising would cover sentencing only, and that it would involve all the remarks, not just the edited highlights—with great respect to the popular press, that practice has, as the Lord Chancellor has said, led to much disenchantment with the system—I have come to the conclusion that it would be right to have cameras in court. It would be good for transparency, and I agree with the Lord Chancellor when he says that it would restore trust in the system.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who is no longer in his place, talked about early intervention. Under this Government, we are bringing together different strands from various Departments, including the Department of Health, the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice, to look at this matter. We finally have a Government who are being tough on crime and particularly tough on the causes of crime.

It is a real pleasure and privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), for whose work at the Bar I have great respect. I was a barrister for eight years. I prosecuted and defended at all levels, and I appeared at courts with my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) in our younger days. Having practised at all levels, including magistrates courts, Crown courts and the Court of Appeal, I want to stress that in any civilised society, there must be a right to a fair trial. That right is at the very heart our constitutional law, as set out in “Hood Phillips”. Related to that right is the issue of the competence of our judges. Having appeared before them at all levels, I can say that our judges—be they magistrates, district judges, Crown court judges, Court of Appeal judges or Supreme Court judges—are of the finest calibre. That supports the argument about consistency and transparency in sentencing.

Linked to that is the argument about checks and balances in our legal system. For example, I appeared at Maidstone Crown court many years ago representing a young defendant who was charged with six counts of supplying class A drugs, which one would have thought would get an automatic custodial sentence. However, taking account of the overall circumstances—the defendant was only 18, had been kicked out of home, had no job and no resources—it was decided that he got into supplying drugs as a runner in order to live day by day. In those exceptional circumstances, the Crown court judge ordered a community penalty and that he receive rehabilitation so that the young man could get somewhere in life rather than be stuck in a system in which he would go inside and come out as a hardened criminal. In that example, the checks and balances were clearly there. Within 90 days, the Attorney-General referred the case to the Court of Appeal, which then accepted the decision of the Crown court judge. It acknowledged that it was right and proper for the judge to show discretion in that case.

As I say, all the circumstances have to be looked at. As my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford and for Broxtowe rightly said, there is a sense in which not every case is a straitjacket. It comes down to having confidence in, and trusting, our judges. I made that point in my maiden speech, referring to the ability and the competence of our judges and the fact that they have to be trusted. Linked to that, I would say that rather than referring matters to the European Courts, they should be left to our Supreme Court and its judges—some of the highest calibre judges I have ever encountered.

Will my hon. Friend comment on cases where the judges might have got something wrong and what routes of recompense there are in those circumstances? I speak as chairman of the all-party group on retail and business crime. I hear a number of instances from independent retailers where judges have given questionable summaries, so these retailers are unsure whether the justice system works in their favour. Let me cite one quick example, where a judge said that because the perpetrator of the crime stole scratch cards rather than real money, a reduced sentence was appropriate. The shop was particularly upset by the judgment but had no way of securing recompense by getting the sentence increased or getting justice from the system.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, which I was going to come on to later, but will address now. When it comes to a court decision or sentence that people feel is not right, there are checks and balances. As I said, the Attorney-General can refer the matter to the Court of Appeal if the sentence appears unduly lenient. In the example my hon. Friend mentioned, it is right and proper to have the victim impact statement at the outset. The incident might seem trivial in some people’s eyes, but not to the retailer in this case for whom the circumstances were very important. We must ensure that the gravity of the circumstances is properly taken into account.

We have discussed checks and balances from the prosecution angle. Here, I would say there are provisions in statute—the Criminal Justice Act 2003—where the previous Government got it right in respect of checks and balances. This deals with the prosecutor’s right to appeal a case through a terminatory ruling to the Court of Appeal. I was involved in one of those cases. In the case of R and R at Harrow Crown court, a Crown court judge felt that gloves with lead in the middle of them did not constitute an offensive weapon—the same as knuckle-dusters—accepting that they were used to drive a Harley-Davidson. It was argued that these could not be offensive weapons per se and that there was no intent to cause injury. In that case, it was right and proper to use section 58(2)(b) of the 2003 Act to refer the matter to the Court of Appeal. The judge’s decision was overturned.

That brings me back to the point about consistency in judges’ decisions and the importance of having checks and balances—for example, at the Crown court where the Attorney-General can apply them to unduly lenient sentences. On the other hand, if a sentence is manifestly excessive, that, too, can be referred to the Court of Appeal. I would say that the system works well for both sides, ensuring consistency in sentencing from judges who, in my view, are some of the finest in the world and who have exhibited consistency in the cases that I have been involved in.

Linked to that issue are arguments about the Sentencing Council, which the Lord Chancellor and other Members mentioned. The composition of the Sentencing Council is the important point for me. We have referred to senior judges on it and we have mentioned people from Victim Support. It is entirely right and proper to have sentencing guidelines where there is experience at all levels.

The other point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford was the need to ensure that there is consistency throughout the country. One member of the Sentencing Council, the hon. Mr Justice Globe, has practised on the northern circuit, while another, also an eminent member of the judiciary, has practised on the midlands circuit. There is a member from the Probation Service, and a member, Professor Julian Roberts, who is a leading academic. The integrity of this independent body is maintained when its members, including judges, convene from different parts of the country to ensure that the guidance that it issues reflects the views of its entire membership.

As I said to the Lord Chancellor, it is right for us to have a sentencing guidelines council. The fact remains, however, that these are only guidelines. At the time of the riots in August, I made clear my view that the firm sentencing of the judges was entirely appropriate, because those tragic events were not ordinary incidents. The Sentencing Council is there to set guidelines in relation to day-to-day offences, but I believe that judges are right to depart from such guidelines when they must deal with serious and extraordinary events.

We all remember the rhetoric of 1997: “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” Ten years down the line, when half the total number of offenders were reoffending within a year, we looked for the key factor in terms of the causes of crime. I think that it was nonsense for the then Leader of the Opposition—subsequently Prime Minister in the Labour Government —to use the words “tough on the causes of crime”, given that events such as the London riots are often linked to causes such as the breakdown of the family and failure to provide the right support. The riots happened because society did not get it right and the Labour Government did not get it right. We know that alcohol is one of the key factors in crime, but the causes of crime were not dealt with in that regard. Instead, 24-hour alcohol licences were given out, which exacerbated the problem further.

I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) about the automatic release of prisoners halfway through their sentences. Earlier this year, I submitted a written question asking how many instances of bad behaviour there had been in 2010. I was told that there had been 11,500. Did those who had been responsible for that bad behaviour have to stay in prison for longer? The answer was no: they came straight out. That is clearly reminiscent of the last Government, who got it completely wrong. I suggest to the Solicitor-General that we should seek to ensure that if people are released halfway through their sentences, good behaviour should be taken into account. Indeed, that point is often raised by a great many judges.

When I mentioned early release to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), his argument was, “It was only a few days here and a few days there.” It is good that he has accepted that early release went on, but it was completely unacceptable for 80,000 people to be released from prison early under the last Government, for a number of reasons. A victim has plucked up the courage to go to court. The police have done their part, obtaining statements and tracking down the person responsible. There is either CCTV evidence or circumstantial evidence. There is a prosecutor who has prepared a brief, and there is a judge who has done his job and has passed sentence. That sentence is then undermined if someone is released early, or released early on curfew. In that respect, the last Government completely undermined our criminal justice system and people’s confidence in it.

I strongly agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe. I strongly support what the Government are doing in not just looking at custody arrangements. Of course one has to consider custody when an offence is so serious that that is warranted, but it is crucial to look at underlying causes, and at skills and education. A lot of the people whom we are talking about cannot read and write, so it is no surprise that they go inside, come back out, commit a crime, and go back inside. We have to ensure that they have skills, so that when they come out, they can contribute to society; that is right and proper.

Linked to that is the issue of ensuring that people work while they are inside. I very much welcome the Lord Chancellor’s proposal that there be an offer of 35 hours’ work in prison; that is right and proper. The money that people earn in prison should go to the victim, so that when a judge makes an order for compensation at the outset of the sentence, the money is paid. That is better than saying to the victim, “I’m really sorry; the defendant is going into custody, and he has no money.” That is completely and utterly unfair to the victim. Under this proposal, the judge can give a sentence of custody plus compensation paid for through work carried out inside.

I very much welcome the reforms relating to knife crime and gangs—things by which all our constituencies have been affected, albeit at different levels; there might be more or less of them in different parts of the country. The Government are sending a clear message that knife crime will not be tolerated by introducing an automatic prison sentence for adults who use knives, or threaten to do so, and so endanger people’s lives. That is right and proper; it is what the public want, and I very much want the Government to introduce that.

I welcome the Government’s push towards ending the practice of releasing dangerous sexual and violent offenders halfway through their sentence without a Parole Board hearing. It is absolutely right and proper to protect the public—we have to do that—by ensuring that there is a Parole Board hearing and approval, so that we can be sure that the offender is no longer a danger to the public.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) has a detailed, lengthy argument to make; when I was at the Bar, I was taught that brevity is a virtue, not a vice, and I shall apply that principle. I have nothing more to say, other than that I very much support the Government’s proposed reforms to improve our criminal justice system and ensure consistency and transparency in our legal system.

It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), who, although a fellow member of my chambers, is a far more distinguished barrister than I have ever been. He speaks with great authority. However, I do not wish to declare that legal interest, particularly; I want to declare as an interest the fact that I have been a victim, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). I have been burgled four times, twice in London and twice in Lincolnshire, and it has never been other than a completely traumatic, devastating experience. I apologise if that somewhat warps my judgment when it comes to burglars, but there it is. My experiences are similar to those of no fewer than 745,000 of my fellow citizens who, in 2010, were burgled and had their lives traumatised.

On the last occasion on which I was burgled, the burglars stripped some lead off the roof; fair enough, but they then came inside and stole the hot-water tank, without bothering to turn off the water—why should they? That would have been a kind gesture. The result was that the house was completely flooded. Everything was ruined, and my experience is not unusual nowadays. I do not accept the argument of the liberal elite—if I may use the sort of language used by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)—that there are nice burglaries and bad burglaries; all domestic burglaries are absolutely horrible, and the public are completely fed up with them.

The deterrent is simply not great enough. In 2010, there was a statistically significant increase of 14% in domestic burglaries, so it is not surprising that 60% of adults feel that crime has gone up since last year. We heard earlier that the public do not necessarily understand what is really going on, and that they read the popular press, but I trust the public. When there are 745,000 burglaries, they start to worry, and they feel under threat in their homes. That ruins their lives. Vulnerable, older, and poorer people feel that even more strongly. They cannot live in gated communities.

I suppose that the police tried their best when I was burgled, but there was no evidence that there was any follow-up, or that they were taking intelligence. They seemed to be overwhelmed. All they said to me is, “You have to have a burglar alarm fitted and fit more locks.” However, the poor simply cannot afford this. It is the poor and the old who suffer. Judges and we in this House have a duty to defend our people from being victimised in this way.

I agree with everything my hon. Friend is saying. Is it not all the more terrible that 10% of all crimes and 20% of all burglaries are committed by people on bail? Given that, should not the Government be doing something to tighten up the bail rules, instead of making it harder for courts to remand people in custody?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not want to weary the House with too many figures, because then I will be accused of quoting statistics, which do not give the whole story. However, these figures are alarming and it is up to the Government to reply to them. As I have said, 48% of all burglars do not receive an immediate custodial sentence. Some 37% of burglars of private dwelling houses—the worst form of violation of our fellow citizens’ rights—do not receive a custodial sentence. Approximately 87% of custodial sentences for domestic burglary are for less than three years. In 2010, only 16% of those convicted of burglary were sentenced to more than 18 months in prison. In other words, only 16% were sent to prison, and a lot of them were out within nine months. We know that a house that has been burgled has a 20% chance of being burgled at least once more within a year.

Apart from the trauma and the violation of people’s rights and privacy, burglary costs insurers a staggering £370 million per annum. Members should not believe all those insurance adverts in which the kind insurance company comes in the next day and mends everything—that does not happen. As I and our fellow citizens know, it is hard going every inch of the way with these insurance companies.

What about the clear-up rate? The British crime survey shows that approximately 659,000 domestic burglaries were committed in 2009-10. Given that only 9,670 such offenders were convicted, the clear-up rate was a mere 1.4%. So, not only are many of the punishments derisory—someone who is convicted, if indeed they are convicted, will not go to prison for very long—but the clear-up rate is incredibly low and the police are obviously struggling to deal with the problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said—the point he made bears repeating—according to Ministry of Justice figures for a particular year, 2,980 burglars with 15 previous convictions were not sent to prison. I hope the Minister will reply to that point when he sums up the debate.

We had an argument earlier about current sentencing guidelines. I quoted various figures to the Secretary of State during interventions, saying that only 48% of burglars go to prison, and he said, “I’m sorry, but my position is absolutely clear: I believe that if you burgle a private dwelling house, you should go to prison.” The purpose of my speaking in this debate is to try, in my own small way, to convince the Secretary of State, the judges and the whole system that there is a widespread and strong belief and understanding among our fellow citizens that someone who breaks into and steals from a private dwelling house will go to prison, and I want to drive that message home. However, I was told that sentencing guidelines—my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe spoke with great authority on this issue—suggest a community sentence for first-time offenders. They may have been convicted for the first time, but how many burglaries have they actually committed? We have no idea. We are talking about a community sentence—no prison sentence at all.

Currently, for a category 3, lesser harm or lower culpability domestic burglary—I do not accept this language, which is that of the Sentencing Council—the sentencing starting point is a high-level community order. Our fellow citizens will be astonished to hear that somebody can commit a domestic burglary and get a high-level community order. The suggested range goes from a low-level community order to a mere 26 weeks' imprisonment, which, as we all know, is nothing like 26 weeks' imprisonment. On top of that, criminals receive a guilty plea discount. I am sorry to have to say that we are simply not doing enough to grip this.

I shall give way in a moment, and I hope that the Minister will reply to this point. There are far too many domestic burglaries and people do not feel safe in their homes. The punishments are not sufficient and neither is the clear-up rate, and that has a major effect on the quality of life in this country.

On my hon. Friend’s point about category 3 burglaries, is he suggesting that public policy should not allow any differentiation between domestic burglaries? For example, if in broad daylight the burglar puts his hand through an open window, steals a paperweight from the windowsill and walks off, should that be treated in the same way as a night-time domestic burglary in which an elderly couple are traumatised and frightened or—as happened in his case—the house is trashed? Is he saying that there should be just one category, burglary, and that the sentence should be prison full stop?

Of course I am not saying that and of course judges should have some discretion. There is a range of burglaries. It is not for me to lay down the law and to say that there should be a minimum sentence or what it should be. I want to drive home the point that there should be a general understanding among the law-abiding public that their homes will be protected, as there should be a general understanding among them and among the criminal classes of what will happen if someone commits any kind of domestic burglary. I do not accept the language, by the way. We have heard descriptions of burglaries before in which somebody puts their hand through a window and takes a paperweight, and we have to ask how many people are going around taking paperweights—I do not know. The language suggests that it does not really matter very much, but it does matter and it is important.

Of course, there must be differentiation, but my point is very important: I want a general understanding of what will happen if a person violates someone’s privacy and causes them trauma. I suspect that a lot of the time what is being stolen is not just a paperweight but something that is very personal and precious. It goes back to what my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe said about her grandmother’s wedding ring. It might not be worth much, but the experience was traumatising. I want to drive home the point that if someone goes into somebody’s private house and takes something, they should end up in prison.

I shall give way to the Minister and, if he gives me that reassurance, I shall sit down immediately.

My hon. Friend has sat down already, so that is all right. I am trying to extract clarity from him. I want him to make the best case he can, but unless he speaks clearly it is difficult to respond in a way that does his argument justice. That was why I asked him the question and he has provided me with an answer.

I thank the Minister. We are at idem and I hope that the Government will now make an announcement in accordance with what I have been arguing for the past 10 minutes or so.

I want to drive home the point that it is the poor and vulnerable who suffer. A family with a household income of less than £10,000 is more than twice as likely to be burgled as one with a household income of £40,000 to £50,000. As a House of Commons, we are right to have this debate today and to raise this issue. I understand that the Government will make an announcement this afternoon on spent convictions—I have been told by the media that that will happen, but I do not know whether that is right. At the end of this debate and over the next few weeks and months, I want to elicit a response from the Government that shows that they are seized of the problem and are prepared to put sufficient resources into clearing up domestic burglaries through the policing system and to encourage the courts to take seriously the crime of burglary, of all crimes, because that is one thing that our fellow citizens want more than anything else.

I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) for not being a lawyer but daring to participate in this debate. I hope he will forgive me. I must also apologise for not living in Oxfordshire or in a nine-bedroom mansion. I live in a two-bedroom ex-council flat; I hope that does not exclude me from this debate.

I represent the fourth most deprived Conservative-held seat in the country, and I hope that allows me to participate in the debate because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) has just pointed out, it is the poor who suffer most as a consequence of crime.

I should like to question some of the comforting nostrums that have been floating around the Chamber. Those who have read their New Statesman this morning might call it “reassurance” politics—saying things to make ourselves, rather than those we seek to represent, feel better. That is my primary concern. Language is crucial in this debate. We have to be judicious and proportionate in everything we say, but I sometimes fear that is rather difficult.

I also believe that victims have to have a crucial role in this process, not because I believe, as I fear some do, that victims will automatically demand the harshest judgment possible—far from it. We can all swap polling and survey evidence, but I want to highlight a survey I saw from 2009, which said that only 11% of the victims questioned felt that sending more offenders to prison would “do most” to reduce crime. That is not to say that people should not go to prison or that prison should not be unpleasant, but it does indicate that the comforting nostrum that all victims are slavering for the chance to see those who have caused them harm swing high simply is not the case.

I commend the Government for publishing more local, transparent data on sentencing. That is vital to improving not just transparency but public confidence in the system. I firmly believe that a transparent and consistent sentencing policy will be possible only if we start to reduce the prison population. Unlike some hon. Members here today, I do not believe we should seek to turn this nation into a gulag with as many people as possible crammed in.

My hon. Friend and I heard the interesting and often entertaining speech of our hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who mentioned the Netherlands. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) agree that if the Netherlands can close eight prisons because they do not have enough prisoners to fill them, and if their apparent crime rate and their apparent imprisonment rate are half of ours, on a population basis, we have a lot to learn from those who agree that we need to cut crime, cut the number of victims and cut the number of people in prison as well?

I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. I have always believed there should be a strong correlation between the amount of crime being committed and the number of people being sent to prison. If one is going in one direction, I fail to understand why the other is not going in the same direction, but it is not. There are now twice as many people in prison as when Michael Howard announced that “prison works”. I therefore believe that for certain categories of prisoner it is essential to look at alternatives to custody that are robust without being harsh and that have lower reoffending rates. Indeed, the Lord Chancellor pointed out that that was one of the crucial indicators he had placed at the heart of the Ministry of Justice’s work. In my view, that means we should start to focus not only on how many people reoffend after longer sentences but at what we mean by a short sentence and what is an appropriate sentence.

I might just about agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley that sentences of less than 12 months are almost decorative. People at the young offender institutions I have visited say that the most they can do is fix people’s teeth in that time, if they are lucky. Perhaps the shortest sentence should be 12 months, but that does not absolve us from trying to confront what we do in the community. I do not support the idea that anyone who is found guilty should be sent to prison, no matter what their crime. That simply is not the way to go. Within the youth justice system, there has been a 30% fall in the number of children in custodial settings without any increase in youth crime. That is an important example to which we should hold true. It is possible to reduce incarceration levels while keeping crime levels low. Once again, the two are not connected. Indeed, the Government have been able to cancel plans to build a new young offender institution at Glen Parva, thereby creating savings for the taxpayer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley was rather dismissive of my participation in the 301 project. I hope he is not similarly dismissive of our participation in “No Turning Back”; indeed, perhaps he is a fellow member. I hope he shares my concern for effective financial management and good stewardship of taxpayers’ money. One of my key concerns about the approach to criminal justice that he advocates is that it pays no attention to the cost to the public purse.

I make no apology for that consideration. Only yesterday, we spent time agonising over the Welfare Reform Bill and the deeply difficult cuts that we are having to make that will affect some very vulnerable people. Those are difficult decisions, which we do not take with any great pleasure. If we give that level of scrutiny to our welfare system, I strongly believe that it is incumbent on us to look with equal forensic attention at how much we are spending on our prison and criminal justice systems.

I asked the Ministry of Justice what was the highest number of crimes that somebody had committed while still not being sent to prison—the number of previous convictions. The answer was 578. Somebody with 578 previous convictions was not sent to prison. That was 300 for shoplifting, 131 for drunk and disorderly behaviour, 79 for public disorder, 18 for breach of bail, 14 for criminal damage, nine for assault, eight for robbery, four for possessing an offensive weapon, one for actual bodily harm and 14 others. Does my hon. Friend agree that that person should still not have been sent to prison?

When I see my hon. Friend flicking through sheets of paper, I can always guarantee that a demon statistic is on its way to disprove the point being made by a hapless Back Bencher. Such is my lot.

The average cost of a year in prison is £45,000. Effective, intensive community sentences can cost as little as £5,000. I stress the word “effective”, because I accept that much of our community sentencing is not very good at all. It does not do what it is supposed to do and is regarded as a joke, but there are intensive alternatives that have been shown to work. That is where we should focus our attention, not just on banging up everyone who has ever looked at us askance. Indeed, in a world governed by my hon. Friend, I might fear for my own liberty. It would be deeply concerning to end up in the Shipley gulag.

If I understand the complex legal world correctly, a community order can comprise 12 different elements. Some of them are relatively familiar: for example, curfews and unpaid work, which make up slightly over 30% of many community orders. What concerns me is that the more technical, specialist and difficult aspects make up less than 1% of the orders that are issued. The mental health treatment requirement is used in less than 1% of community orders, yet 40% of the offenders we are discussing have been judged as having a mental health need. There are numerous problems with that component. A high threshold is set, which requires a psychiatric report that can often result in a wait of up to 16 weeks. That may deter many magistrates from imposing an order. It also requires the psychiatrist to offer a specific course of treatment, which may not be easy to arrange, thus again deterring a magistrate from employing the order.

What worries me more than anything else is that magistrates might not fully understand the range of disposals they can use. All too often people in the criminal justice system tell me that if only they had known about this or that type of order they could have given the offender a more appropriate sentence. If I have one incy-wincy, teeny-weeny criticism of the Government, it is that cuts in training for magistrates might make it harder for them to be aware of what is available in their local area.

There are particularly good models in existence, such as the North Liverpool community court where judges remain actively involved in the offender’s future post-sentence. They can see whether the sentence they impose actually represents punishment of the offender and solves their many problems.

I must also refer, as many Members have, to restorative justice, or youth conferencing as we have seen it in Northern Ireland. It demonstrates that there is innovation out there that can deliver better reoffending figures than a custodial setting. I want the Government to follow up their work on the intensive alternative to custody pilot that was run in Manchester. They published an excellent analysis of the pilot in July 2011, but it made it clear that it was very difficult to come up with robust reoffending figures for those who had gone through the system. As those of us who participate in these debates know, winning public confidence requires robust data showing that new, innovative methods of disposal actually work. It is difficult to provide robust figures for the intensive alternative to custody.

We need to understand reoffending rates far better, because these models can offer much greater cost-effectiveness. As I said earlier, we cannot look only at the criminal justice and public spending elements as if we are just warehousing criminals for two years or so for public protection, because they will just emerge ready to reoffend, and that will not provide the satisfaction—I use the word in precise terms—that a victim deserves.

Despite the fall in child custody, one in 10 prisoners are still in the 18 to 20 age group. Admittedly, this has spiked because of the riots, quite correctly in my view. However, the independent panel that looked into the riots identified the lack of support for young people moving from the youth justice system to the adult justice system as a contributory factor to the occurrence of the riots, which is worth bearing in mind. The Barrow Cadbury Trust found that almost half of those in the 18 to 20 age group were in local authority residential care and 40% had suffered some sort of domestic violence. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has stated in a Centre for Social Justice report that

“increasing penalties for offenders will do little to stop the next generation of prisoners and unlock the cycle of deprivation which so many young people are trapped in, unless it is accompanied by an attempt to tackle the underlying drivers of crime.”

That is why I am concerned that any model that focuses simply on imprisonment and increasing the number of prisoners will not solve the wider problem we face.

We all age physically at different speeds, but we also age emotionally at different speeds. The human brain is not mature until the mid-20s—I suspect that for certain Members it might be much older, but I do not dare to speculate. It is worth looking at the model used in Germany, where those in the 18 to 21 age group are assessed for maturity. If the individual has a communication delay or learning disabilities, for example, there is the option that they will be disposed of through the youth justice process. That has been shown to work well in solving individual problems.

It is also important that our political rhetoric in the Chamber, on both sides, is mature when we discuss criminal justice. The Prison Reform Trust—I declare an interest as a trustee—recently published a report examining the reasons for the decline in child imprisonment. It found that politicians had played no role in that at all. Indeed, the best it could say about us was that we did not impede the process. I welcome the fact that the Government and others are now rejecting the easy, knee-jerk options. The Mayor’s strategy on youth crime, for example, was notably mature and robust in how it sought to tackle the issue. Similarly, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has made great strides in the right direction, although I am sure that we would want to see some of them move more quickly. I commend the Sentencing Council for the judicious work it has done so far, and I congratulate the Opposition, empty though their Benches are, on having done the right thing in setting it up.

In conclusion, transparency and consistency in sentencing can be achieved only by clarity of purpose, and by an iron will not to use sentencing policy to demonstrate other supposed political virtues. We do not need to be harsh to be tough, and we must never forget that victims are humans and have needs. To be a victim of crime is more than a financial event; it is a deeply upsetting and emotional experience.

Equally, we must never forget that perpetrators of crime are also human beings. Often, they are perpetrators not because they are evil—and I do believe in evil, and that there are evil people who should be in prison—but because the state has failed them at multiple stages of their life, almost from birth, in residential care homes, education and many other settings. Those people are on the conveyor belt to crime because we in this House have failed them time and again. To put such people in prison and merely wash our hands of them is not a solution to the state’s failure to care for the most vulnerable in society.

I rise with an enormous amount of insecurity because I am talking to so many learned friends on a subject about which I know so little—I feel a little like a woolly mammoth staggering into a law library. My speech is really a series of hints followed by guesses, with perhaps some questions about the relationship of the Sentencing Council to our constitution.

It strikes me that there is a danger with the Sentencing Council that I would love to hear the Government address. It seems—if I may use portentous language—to be a threat to the liberty of Englishmen. I say that deliberately because it does not, of course, apply to Scotland, and I would not presume to speak for Wales. The Sentencing Council is a threat to the liberty of Englishmen because despite its best intentions—we have heard wonderful stuff about predictability, transparency, consistency and public trust—it is attempting to step on sacred ground. It is going where the state and administrators should not go; it is trying to cross the threshold of the courtroom door.

We in Parliament are connected to many things that are to do with the law. We create the law, and we define crimes and the factors relevant to them. We can even state the maximum sentence—or, in exceptional circumstances the minimum sentence—for a particular crime. We should not, however, become involved—and I fear that the Sentencing Council is involved—with the exact processes and factors that operate within the courtroom itself, and in particular with the independence and power of the jury and the judge.

We have heard a certain amount about the independence of the judge, but the most important point concerns the jury, which has a direct interest in knowing the connection between its verdict and the judgment reached. It is difficult for it to see that connection, however, in the current world of the Sentencing Council, which is an astonishingly opaque universe that might appeal to a management consultant or to a Taylorist soap factory. For example, in the case of grievous bodily harm, the Sentencing Council attempts to define nine aggravating factors, three statutory aggravating factors and 25 additional factors, and then to churn the whole thing through a sausage factory of nine different steps until a judgment is produced through that complex algorithm. How is the jury expected to understand the consequences of its verdict on such a judgment?

Purists may say that such things are none of the jury’s concern, and that the jury does not need to know the sentence as its concern is merely with the verdict. However, that has never been true in English common law, which from the beginning has contained the notion of pious perjury—in other words, the jury’s ability not only to determine the verdict, but to have an influence on the sentence. That was important, of course, when the death penalty attached to basic crimes, and it is still important today when we consider issues such as assisted suicide. It is a very important part of our liberty that the jury retains the discretion to affect the decision.

The second set of problems with which we are dealing concerns the independence of the judge. The jury is the preservation of our liberty, but the judge also has two important hands that are manacled by the Sentencing Council. The first is his ability to reach a decision based on the complexity of an individual case. The algorithms produced by the Sentencing Council—the lists of nine or 25 factors—are simply, in its own words, “non-exhaustive” lists of the factors that a judge is supposed to take into account. He is supposed to recognise the individuality of the crime, and the nature and history of the criminal. Those are the things for which we employ a judge—the things that a human is better able to provide than a machine or some checklist produced by the Sentencing Council.

The deeper, bigger problem is that the judge is not simply involved in a forensic investigation. It is not simply a question of fact or the analysis of evidence; at its deepest level, it is a question of morality and philosophy. When the judge determines a sentence, he is supposed to take on board not simply the crime and the history of the criminal but all the issues that we have heard about today—deterrence, public protection and justice in its broadest sense. They are not instrumental or factual questions but normative questions of morality and philosophy. Those things cannot be outsourced to a Sentencing Council that wishes us to tick boxes.

The defence of the Sentencing Council—that the guidelines are not mandatory—is of course deeply disingenuous. It is only under the most exceptional circumstances that judges can depart from them. Let us therefore remember that the reason why we have for so long protected the independence of the jury and the judge in English common law from exactly that type of administrative state interference is that we are English, not French. Such interference is a very Napoleonic approach, implying that the administrative state, with its astonishing mathematical formulae and algorithms, can generate the appropriate sentence within the hallowed space of the courtroom.

We must fight against that, because from the very foundation of our jury system, the basic principle of English common law has pushed against the idea of learned experts with their technocratic micro-management and instead recognised, since the early mediaeval period, the importance of even semi-literate jurors. The qualities that we look for in justice are not those of mathematical precision and science but those of common sense, human relationships, understanding and fellow feeling. In the judge, we look not simply for his learned nature, but for his compassion, philosophical insight and morality.

I conclude with a small reference to Blackstone. However convenient the new methods of trial may at first appear—indeed, all arbitrary methods are convenient at their first appearance—let it be remembered that the delays and minor inconveniences in the forms of our justice are the price that a free nation pays for its liberty in more substantial matters.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Following remarks today by the United States Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that US forces in Afghanistan will step back from their lead combat role by the end of 2013, Downing street appears to have announced a similar policy for British troops at its press briefing this morning. Surely that should have been first announced to Parliament. Has Mr Speaker been approached by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence or even the Prime Minister’s office saying that the Government wish to make a statement to Parliament either today or, at the very latest, on Monday?

Thank you, Mr Spellar, for forward notice of that point of order. I have not received any information that the Prime Minister or any other Minister intends to make a statement today. Should that change, Members will be notified in the usual way.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart)—he is a most learned friend—who gave a great philosophical and moral insight into sentencing decisions and the factors involved.

This debate is long overdue and a range of views have been aired. I welcome the debate partly because it gives me an opportunity to commend the Government’s approach to their victims strategy. I have had the privilege of engaging with the Ministry of Justice on its “Victims Matter” policy, including through a ten-minute rule Bill I sponsored at the end of last year.

There is a degree of consensus in the House this afternoon that far more needs to be done to support victims in light of the consistency and transparency of sentencing, and, importantly, to rebalance the criminal justice system, so that there is not a disproportionate focus on the offender and so that due consideration is given to the victims of crime. It is obvious that the Government’s focus and what they have done are welcome and good steps in the right direction. Naturally, some of the Government’s proposals will need careful consideration. I hope Ministers and officials engage constructively with Victim Support and other organisations to ensure that victims services are improved and enhanced.

As has been said, sentencing is a part of the justice system in which victims are forgotten, yet sentencing is important to them. Victims of crime want offenders to face the consequences of their actions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) has said, there is balance. Offenders must take on the full consequences of their action through punishment, and we must ensure that sentences reflect the crime that has been committed while providing the offender with an appropriate degree of punishment and rehabilitation.

That is partly why victims of crime, and certainly those I have met through my constituency work and those I have engaged with through wider dialogue through, for example, the all-party parliamentary group feel frustrated, angry and disfranchised, which is a good word to use in respect of victims in the justice system. They feel that they are ignored and that the emphasis is placed far too much on the offender. Sadly, there are far too many examples of that. There has been much commentary this afternoon on the media reporting of cases, but I want to mention one case reported earlier this month. Josephine and Douglas Manwaring wrote a victim impact assessment to call for the criminal who brutally murdered their daughter 20 years ago to rot in prison. The case was harrowing, but the bureaucrats involved tried to censor their views from the Parole Board considering the murderer’s release. Those actions were totally unacceptable, and I trust that the Justice Secretary took robust action to ensure that those bureaucrats do not take it upon themselves to suppress victims in future. Victims must have a voice.

In another well documented case in Essex, victims of crime were completely circumvented and ignored in the sentencing of a prolific offender, Bradley Wernham. He was eventually apprehended after committing more than 600 offences, but when his case came to court, the victims were not given the chance to have a say. Instead, officials and the court refused to lock him up, and he went on to reoffend. The court decided not only to give him a community sentence, but to give him the usual benefits that come with it. It became a social experiment. Many of my constituents described his treatment as bribing him not to reoffend. Needless to say, the experiment backfired, and dozens of crimes later, he was eventually put behind bars. I emphasise that throughout the process, victims had no voice in the decisions and were never engaged.

The Justice Secretary and the wider Ministry of Justice team will share my concerns about such situations. Although the new reforms will take time to be effective, it is important that the Ministry reiterates to the courts, and to all those involved in the justice system, that victims must have a voice. They must be put first, especially in sentencing.

I want the Government to go further in keeping the public safe when persistent offenders are sentenced. In 2010, 651 offenders received between five and nine community sentences, while 10 offenders received between 10 and 14 community sentences. Those 661 offenders were given more than five chances to rehabilitate, but they still pursued a life of crime. In 2009, offenders subject to community orders committed more than 18,000 serious violent and sexual offences, including 172 sexual offences against children. Those figures are truly astonishing. They demonstrate that far too many criminals are being allowed to remain in the community, where they are reoffending and causing misery for their victims, when they should be locked behind bars to keep the public safe.

It is not just offenders on community orders who are continuing their criminal ways. Figures from 2009—again, Labour was in power—show that 21,000 criminals reoffended within one month of receiving a caution or an out-of-court disposal. I appreciate that there are strains on our prisons and that the previous Government left behind an appalling legacy, which this Government are seriously attempting to deal with, but when people are reoffending at such prolific rates, our courts must be empowered to imprison the most dangerous and persistent offenders. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill gives some reassurance that that can happen. In particular, I welcome the policy to remove some prisoners’ automatic right to be released after serving just half their sentence in prison. However, I urge the Justice Secretary to be firm with the judiciary over the protection of the public.

Some really shocking examples have come to my attention of criminals being let out early only to reoffend. I have a string of examples, and we have heard others today. The point, however, is that public protection should always come first. We have heard that our prisons are straining at full capacity and that we must do more on rehabilitation, and I completely support that, because the cost of reoffending has been far too high. Colleagues on both sides of the House recognise that the system is completely unsustainable, given the figures for reoffending, the cost to the public purse and the cost of the prison system and the criminal justice system. More has to be done to make sure that resources are targeted appropriately in prisons to prevent reoffending.

We have had plenty of figures, including Ministry of Justice figures—I hope they are reliable figures—indicating that a good degree of taxpayers’ money is being spent on prisoner education. That is, of course, welcome, but we should spend that money in a targeted way to ensure that we can turn around offenders’ lives. The rehabilitation revolution and the proposals in “Breaking the Cycle” are absolutely targeted at doing that.

I firmly believe that prison has a role to play as a strong deterrent. We must ensure that our prisons work and that they do what it says on the tin. The Government’s focus on reoffending and breaking the cycle of reoffending is absolutely key. We must make sure that resources are targeted in the right way to deal with the previous Government’s dreadful legacy in the criminal justice system. We must do what needs to be done, protect the public and start turning around the lives of many of these persistent reoffenders.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The sentencing process will always be imperfect and flawed because it comes at the end of a process that starts with a crime being committed, a wrong being done, resulting in damage, death or injury, and whatever the sentencing process contributes, that wrong can never be put entirely right: the family of the victim of somebody who has caused death by dangerous driving, sitting in court, will never be able to recover what they have lost; the partner and children of a householder murdered in the course of a burglary will never be able to recover what they have lost; the victims of a household burglary, examples of which we have heard today, will never be able to recover what they have lost.

It is wholly wrong, therefore, for legislators, judges or anyone else involved in the process to claim too much of the sentencing process or suggest that it can right the social ills of our country. It can never do that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) reminded us, its function is more limited but still important, bearing in mind the duty of the state and the Government to protect the public. That is one of the functions of sentencing. The others are to punish offenders; where appropriate, to offer the hope of rehabilitation to offenders; to reduce reoffending; and to deter others. Those are the functions of sentencing, and we lose sight of them at our peril.

To be fair to the previous Government, they enshrined those principles in law, through the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which was perhaps one of the few wise decisions that they took. It seemed to me, and many others involved at the heart of the system, that many of the previous Government’s decisions were based on precious little evidence or analysis. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) as she explained, as she always does, the case for victims of crime. As someone who was part of the system, as a lawyer and part-time judge, I know that it is easy to overlook victims in the process, because it is the state taking action against the individual, with the victim a mere player—a witness, if you like.

Those old nostrums no longer stand the test of time, which is why there is much merit in what my hon. Friend said about the voice of victims. Hence, I am a passionate supporter of restorative justice. Having seen the limitations of the court system and understood the lack of control that victims feel, I see in restorative justice a chance for those victims to regain control of the situation. Only a few months ago, I heard from the victim of a double rape, who told me and a rapt audience of about 100 people in my constituency about the first time she gained control of the situation. Having been brutally raped, she gave evidence in a trial that resulted in a successful conviction, but—understandably, perhaps—she was told at the end of the trial, “Thank you, you were a brilliant witness. That’s all.”

It might have been all for the criminal justice system, but it was not all for her, because she had to live with the consequences of what had happened—her job over, her family broken up, her life changed utterly. She said that when she met the perpetrator of the rape in prison, for the first time she had control over events. She felt that she was in the driving seat, that she was dictating the process and that she, although never being able to obtain full closure, was for the first time able to explain to the perpetrator of this dreadful crime the effect it had had on her. That is why I believe in restorative justice, and why I am delighted that the Government are committed to rolling out and enhancing this aspect of our system.

The Sentencing Council has come in for a degree of criticism today, and rightly so. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border reminded us, most eloquently, that to reduce sentencing to a desiccated calculating exercise would be wholly wrong. Judges have to bring with them that element of humanity that is part of the human condition. When you sit in judgment on your fellow man or woman, Mr Deputy Speaker, you have to look them in the eye and judge them as one human being over another. Anyone who tries to rationalise that or limit those decisions to mere rationality does the system a disservice; indeed, they put it in danger. That is why we must never reduce sentencing to mere algorithmic calculation. However, that is the danger of the formulae that have been used in a number of guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council.

I enjoyed challenging Lord Justice Leveson about such matters when I described the new assault guidelines as the judicial equivalent of that game show “The Krypton Factor”—you may remember it, Mr Deputy Speaker, from some years ago—where hapless contestants had to crawl through an assault course and be challenged in a range of activities that seemed to baffle them and the presenter. My challenge was rebuffed, but I renew it in the Chamber today, because I firmly believe that the danger of guidelines is that because departing from them without proper explanation is a ground for appeal, they effectively fetter the discretion of sentencers. I have no problem whatever with trying to achieve a consistency of approach; and, to be fair to the right hon. Lord Justice Leveson, he agrees with that. He would be horrified if he thought that the courts system was somehow being reduced to mere arithmetic and calculation. However, the danger remains that with an over-emphasis on the guidelines—let us not forget that the court must, not “may”, have regard to the guidelines—we become over-prescriptive in sentencing.

Just to expand on that point, does my hon. Friend agree that, as the US Supreme Court found in the case of Booker and Fanfan, the distinction between mandatory sentencing guidelines and purely advisory guidelines is misleading and dangerous? As he is implying, what appear to be simply suggestions operate in practice as mandatory sentences.

That is absolutely right. We are often told that guidelines are not tramlines, but my worry is that as we develop the system, that will increasingly become the case, which is a matter of legitimate concern to us all. My hon. Friend rightly reminded us earlier about the historic role of the jury. In fact, it is interesting to remind oneself that in addressing juries, counsel will be enjoined not to talk to them about the likely sentence that may be passed on the offender, because that is to trespass not only on the function of the judge, but on the function of the jury. My hon. Friend is quite right to introduce into the debate that element of realism, common sense and public experience that juries bring to the court system. That is why they are there, why the system works and why we as parliamentarians support it, and vigorously so.

Having criticised some of the Sentencing Council’s functions, let me commend its research work. One of the better things that it has done is to start the process of looking at the decisions that are made in our Crown courts up and down the land, and to commission research on the attitude of the general public to sentencing. There are two reports in particular that I think the House would be interested to hear about, one of which I referred to in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). The report commissioned by the Sentencing Council and published in May last year by Ipsos MORI conducted a survey of just under 1,000 members of the public and interviewed offenders and victims of crime. Perhaps inevitably—but for the first time based on empirical evidence—the report quite rightly pointed out a number of key things, including that the public perceive the system as being too lenient, but that some of their concerns are allayed once they have a greater knowledge of the workings of the sentencing system. The points that have been made about greater transparency and awareness, and about the televising of proceedings, are all founded on the research that has been carried out. It is plain and simple: if we give the public a greater understanding of the system, they will give the system greater support.

I was fascinated by the public’s view on the reduction of a sentence in return for a guilty plea. They feel that we, the lawyers, are getting it back to front. They would understand and appreciate the system better if, instead of reducing sentences and giving people credit for pleading guilty, the court were to give longer sentences to those who plead not guilty and string the process out, only to be convicted at the end of a trial. They do not like the notion that offenders are somehow being rewarded for having admitted their guilt. That was a fascinating insight that we, as legislators, should bear in mind. Indeed, the Sentencing Council should also take it into account when it reviews the system of credit being given for a guilty plea.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the public perhaps do not understand that the courts give credit for a guilty plea because it spares the cost, and the trauma to the witnesses and victims, of a trial? Furthermore, if someone has admitted to having committed a crime, they stand a much better chance of being rehabilitated and helped, so that they will not go on to commit more offences.

My hon. Friend is right. The report found that there was an appreciation of the economic and emotional benefits of early guilty pleas. However, the public preferred the argument that guilty pleas spare the victims trauma; they were somewhat resistant to the economic, pounds, shillings and pence argument. That is quite understandable, given that members of the public view sentencing and the other criminal justice procedures with the utmost seriousness. To them, public protection through the criminal justice system is second only to military matters such as the defence of the realm—my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) has arrived in the Chamber at just the right moment—and is a matter of the utmost seriousness.

Other work has been commissioned by the Sentencing Council, and it has caused a bit of angst among judges, because they have to fill in forms after every sentence—[Interruption.] I hear involuntary groans in the Chamber at that. For the first time, the courts in England and Wales are being asked to provide a wealth of evidence about what factors and influences are taken into account when those decisions are made. The first report was published in October 2011, and it covers the six-month period from October 2010 to the end of March 2011. The results bear close scrutiny.

The survey covered many hundreds of cases. When studying previous convictions, it found that 78% of offenders with 10 or more previous convictions taken into account by the court were sent to immediate custody. That is a significant and reassuring statistic. It also found that 59% of offenders with one to three previous convictions were also sent to immediate custody, and that 49% of offenders had no previous convictions taken into account when their sentence was determined. Those facts need to be stated. For the first time, there is an emerging body of evidence to show what influences judges and what is going on in our Crown courts.

On the subject of discount for guilty pleas, the survey found that 69% of those who pleaded guilty received a full discount; 12% received a discount of between 20% and 32%; 8% received a discount of between 11% and 20%; and 8% received a much lower discount. That shows, in my view, that judges are using their discretion within the guilty plea discount system and are not formulaically applying the guidelines as laid down by what I think was the Sentencing Advisory Council in a previous incarnation of the Sentencing Council. We have started to create a body of evidence, although we still have a long way to go in working out what decisions are made.

I finish where I started. This is a human system, and it will always be an imperfect system, but if we rob of the system of its humanity, we are doing a disservice to our fellow citizens.

I am grateful to be called to address the House on this important subject. I am minded of the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that this debate might become a bit like a lawyer’s dinner. I have never been to a lawyer’s dinner because I am not a lawyer, so there will be no comments from me about the law. However, I think it is important to raise the issue of what people perceive to be going on in our systems.

Oddly enough, one of the first things I did when I became the Member of Parliament for Stroud was to campaign to save the magistrates court—and we successfully managed exactly that. I had to go to see what I was saving, and that was my first trip to a court. I do not expect to go to court in any capacity other than as an Member of Parliament showing interest. That magistrates court showed me just how detailed the thinking of the magistrates is when they decide how to deal with the people coming before them. I was impressed by the quality of advice they sought and by the advice they were able to give themselves. I was also impressed that young children regularly came to the court, as organised by Gloucestershire magistrates, to make them more familiar with the court and court processes.

That brings me to the first point I want to ram home. We need to understand that there are a large number of cases, that the public cannot know everything about any of them and that the public will certainly not have a proper grasp of the nature of the deliberations throughout a case. The Secretary of State for Justice quite properly acknowledged that point in his opening speech.

That leads us on to problems with the media and their gung-ho approach to sentencing, which can effectively mislead the public—not necessarily deliberately, but because they are sometimes so enthusiastic about making a general point. That does not help the debate. It is therefore important to recognise that the media can be damaging in this as in many other areas when they come out with relatively simplistic explanations of the circumstances they describe.

That is not to say that we should not encourage transparency. We certainly should do so, because the more we know about things, the better, particularly given the number of cases and the number of people who end up with custodial sentences. Information is important in the debate about sentencing and encourages people who are interested in the subject to talk about the issues in more concrete terms, with facts at their disposal. Transparency is absolutely necessary.

I have been listening to the debate in my office when I had the time. I have been on a RAF parliamentary scheme, but I wanted to come to the Chamber to make a simple point about transparency. In June 1986, I gave evidence at a trial in Belfast after the murder of 17 people. Five people were found guilty and were given life sentences. A few years later, I was informed that they had all been released. One of the things that I found upsetting was the fact that it was never explained why those people were released so early although they had killed so many. I think that the public would appreciate it if transparency operated in instances such as that. They would like to be told,“ These people have been released for the following reason, and that was the judgment of the court.” I appreciate that judges are very clever people and that they have sight of all the facts, but it would be nice if it could occasionally be explained why someone has been released early. I am sorry; that was a long intervention.

I thank my hon. Friend. What he has said reaffirms my view that transparency is important. I do not doubt that the Secretary of State listened to that carefully as well.

The rule of law is essential to us as libertarians, as politicians, and as a country with common law at its core, and it is important to bear in mind that the separation of powers makes the rule of law work well if we respect that separation of powers. It is vital for us to recognise the independence of judges, to understand that—as the Secretary of State said—they are there to make judgments, and to understand that they are likely to be the best people to talk about a case because it is they who are judging it and know all about it. I think that politicians are heading into dangerous territory if they become too prescriptive about the way in which they think judges should be sentencing.

I also think it dangerous—this point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland)—to think in terms of a sort of toolkit that forces certain decisions to be made because of what we think is happening in a relatively abstract way. It is important to make the distinction between specific cases and setting rules, which is what we are talking about, and to respect the fact that the separation of powers is core to our way of proceeding.

Why do we give out sentences? Surely one of the most obvious purposes of sentences is to ensure that people stop misbehaving, and that is what we need to talk about in this debate. Several Members have referred to the number of individuals who are reoffending, and it is true—I have checked the facts myself—that 57% of short-term jail sentences result in reoffending within 12 months. That is completely unacceptable: it is not what we are doing the job for. We need to understand why there is so much reoffending. I think that many aspects of the problem are connected with the way in which prison operates. For instance, a number of my constituents have encouraged me to think about the standard of literacy in our prisons, and quite right too. Far too many people who end up in prison, especially the young, cannot read or write properly.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for spelling out the appalling problems of reoffending in statistical terms. Does it surprise him to learn that 70% of young offenders in detention have some form of speech, language or communication disorder?

No, it does not, because I was told that a few weeks ago. I think that the “toe by toe” approach in our prisons is an important way of lowering that figure. I urge the Ministry of Justice and the Secretary of State to think carefully about how we can improve literacy in our prisons so that those leaving prison can have a better chance of participating in society and employment.

Of course, the same applies to drugs: there are just too many people in prison taking drugs, too many people going to prison with drug habits, and too many leaving with a drug habit, which is completely unacceptable. It is important that we tackle that in a rigorous way.

A lot of people have talked about restorative justice. It is a great way of dealing with the victim relationship, and we should promote it. In my constituency of Stroud, a huge number of people want to support restorative justice, and there is a small campaign to promote it. I do not think that many of the campaigners know that it was introduced by Michael Howard, latterly of this House. It was persisted with by the previous Government and by this Government—and quite right, too.

Obviously, for a wide range of crimes, custodial sentences matter and are important; we have gone through all the figures in the past two or three hours. I do not think that many Members on either side of the House would dispute that crimes involving knives, and burglary, should attract custodial sentences. However, there are clear grounds for thinking about community sentences as well. I have taken the Secretary of State for Justice to my constituency and shown him an excellent scheme operated by REACH Gloucestershire, which is busy reconstructing a pathway along a very long canal. That is working, and people know it works. I have talked to people on the scheme; it is hard work, and they recognise that they do not want to do the same again. It is good for them to be given a job of work, and a form of punishment that makes them think carefully about how they operate in society.

Such community sentences are to be encouraged, but let me state clearly that there should be custodial sentences where appropriate. There should also be consistency; my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) emphasised its importance. However, that has to be matched up with the role of the judge, and his responsibility for making judgments. I come back to the central point that we cannot be too prescriptive. We should not go down the populist route of saying, “Hang ’em and flog ’em”; we should instead take responsible decisions to make sure that our judiciary, sentencing process and prisons operate in a way that is consistent with our values as a democratic nation, with our objectives of making sure that we deal with crime and stop reoffending, and with our fundamental belief in the rule of law.

It is a real honour and a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), who gave a powerful speech.

I hesitated to rise to speak on a subject on which I know so little—a fact of which I am particularly conscious in the light of the extraordinarily powerful remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry); she talked about my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who will wind up for the Government, and his appointment as a criminal recorder even though he had no knowledge of criminal law. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) thought that my hon. and learned Friend did so well that he subsequently gave me the same honour.

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor opened the debate for the Government, he referred to the critical importance of the independence of the judiciary, and precisely what it has delivered, in proper sentencing, proper trials in the criminal courts, and public confidence in the criminal justice system.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), who opened the debate for the Opposition. He, too, recognised the quality of this country’s judiciary and what it has meant for the United Kingdom and our citizens in the delivery of proper justice. However, such judicial independence inevitably means that from time to time we in this House, as we are entitled to do, have to consider the sentences handed down, because our constituents rightly raise concerns about them, just as they raise many other concerns about the criminal justice system and other matters.

When the House discusses sentencing, certain tensions manifest themselves as a result of the doctrine of the separation of powers that is rightly in place in this, as in all democratic countries. There are the public expectations—or perceptions, at least—of the sentences that courts hand down, fuelled from time to time, as a number of Members have said, by journalists picking up on sentences that appear not to reflect the severity of the crimes of which a jury has found a defendant guilty. Those public expectations need to be recognised and met, and it is the function of this House and the Government in part to do that in setting the guidelines and framework within which the sentencing operation must take place.

However, in tension with that is the role of the judges. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor rightly recognised that it is a judge in a criminal court who hears the entirety of the evidence against a defendant when presiding over a trial, and such a judge is therefore best placed to determine the appropriate sentence to pass on someone convicted of a crime by a jury of his peers. My right hon. and learned Friend did say, however, that in all such cases the judge will oversee the entire case, but that is not always so. In many instances, a conviction is obtained by the Crown and the case is adjourned for sentencing; indeed, that is the usual practice. As a result, the sentencing judge often has to be re-educated about the precise circumstances in which the offence took place, in order that an appropriate sentence can be imposed. I encourage my right hon. and learned Friend—as I would encourage any Minister—to consider whether it is appropriate in most cases, if not all, to reserve sentencing to the judge who actually heard all the evidence. That would engender better respect for, and greater public confidence in, sentencing.

It is very rare that the judge who conducted the trial in a given case does then not make sure that they pass sentence, for precisely the reasons that my hon. and learned Friend has identified. However, my hon. and learned Friend makes the powerful point that, if at all possible, it would be much better if they retained sentence, even where pleas have been taken by judges, which is usually because they have read the papers the night before. Actually, it just makes things a lot simpler and easier all round, which must be to the benefit of justice and is much more cost-efficient.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about cost-effectiveness. If a different judge has to sentence, the papers have to be read and more work is done in court, thereby taking up court time, while the case is explained by the advocates for the Crown before the plea in mitigation is taken. Then, there is generally a further adjournment—certainly when I sentence, and no doubt when my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) sentences—when the judge retires to consider precisely what he is going to do. All of that could be avoided.

In my experience as a recorder—a role I continue to carry out for a few weeks a year—sentencing lists often include trials where there has been a conviction, and the case is not always reserved to the judge who heard the evidence. In my view, it certainly should be, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and his Front-Bench colleagues will look at that issue.

The first tension for the House when it considers such matters, therefore, is that between public expectation or perception on the one hand and the necessity for judges who hear cases to deal with sentences and impose them appropriately on the other. There is another tension, however, between the discretion of the judiciary to impose the appropriate sentence and the expectations of the public that sentences will reflect the gravity of the crime. That, of course, is a tension that manifests itself most clearly in the discretion afforded to judges in passing the sentences they impose for which they are criticised, from time to time, both in this House and in the press.

Let me echo some of the comments of other Members about the wisdom of this House second-guessing the judiciary in sentencing exercises. If we are to stand behind the independence of the judiciary, as I know my right hon. and learned Friend and other Ministers do, and to insist that the judiciary are responsible for sentencing and not the court of public opinion—as we have seen from time to time—we must be robust and stand up and say here that which is right. That which is right is that there must always remain a certain element of discretion in the sentencing exercise, notwithstanding the frameworks that this House establishes, within which the exercise itself must take place, and the guidance laid down by the Sentencing Council.

The debate therefore takes place in the context of those tensions. Any Member who thought that the tensions were unreal and that the public did not have such perceptions or, indeed, criticise judges from time to time, will find when they return to their offices and read their e-mails an e-mail from our frequent correspondent—by which I mean that of all Members of the House—who goes by the name of UK Patriot. Many Members might delete his e-mails, but I read them. He has sent us all an e-mail today about the “Big Ben bomb gang” who are, he says, apparently out in six years. He says:

“The fact that this has happened is outrageous!”

He tells us that they appear to have been treated by the courts as though

“they were naughty boys owning up to scrumping apples.”

He goes on in the same vein.

There is a common public perception that the judiciary are not imposing proper sentences. It is therefore important, in the terms of the motion today, that we consider both consistency and transparency and that the Government push that agenda as they carry forward their work on sentencing and consider reform of the criminal justice system.

I openly acknowledge that the advent of the Sentencing Council, formerly the Sentencing Guidelines Council, has ensured greater consistency in sentencing. Like the hon. Member for Hammersmith, I am pleased that the Government have not decided that, because of the current financial crisis—we will not touch today on who is responsible for that, although the hon. Gentleman knows my views—this body should be abolished.

I think that my hon. and learned Friend is grappling with the same issue as regards the Sentencing Council as many of us have in recent months. Does he think that there is a case for the Court of Appeal doing the job of the council with an additional resource function to carry out the research that I referred to in my speech?

This is a rare area in which I might disagree with my hon. Friend. Before the Sentencing Guidelines Council was established, as my hon. Friend will know and as the House heard in the Front-Bench speeches, the Court of Appeal used to issue guidance in the form of judgments in particular cases on how judges should proceed in sentencing. That was worth while, and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made clear in his speech, the Court of Appeal retains that role. We saw it, as an intervention revealed earlier in the debate, in the riots last year. The Court of Appeal, essentially, was able to establish that as a matter of English law the context in which otherwise minor offences had taken place required much stiffer sentences to be imposed than would otherwise have been required either by previous guidance from the Court of Appeal or by guidance from the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

I can agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon to the extent that it does seem important that the Court of Appeal should retain that overarching ability to exercise its right to indicate to lower court judges what would be an appropriate sentence in particular circumstances. What the Court of Appeal never had and still does not have the opportunity to do is consult more widely, whereas the Sentencing Guidelines Council did have that opportunity, as does the Sentencing Council, which consults much more widely than the Court of Appeal ever could in a criminal case. In any case in which the Court of Appeal was handing down guidelines, it would receive submissions only from the parties to the case—and perhaps from the Attorney-General; I know not—but it would not be able to consult extensively with the public as the Sentencing Council can and does. If we are to encourage public confidence in the sentencing regime, it is very important that the public are consulted.

The only respect in which I might criticise the Sentencing Council—perhaps I am going slightly off the topic here—is in relation to its consultations on mandatory or discretionary guidelines on sentencing, which are not well publicised or well known. The representations it receives usually come from the Criminal Bar Association, other specialist associations and those who are particularly interested in the criminal justice system.

Is there not another point to bear in mind? The Court of Appeal’s criminal division can look only at past cases and must have cases brought to its attention either singly or in groups in order to introduce thematic judgments on particular areas of criminal activity. The Sentencing Council, however, can proactively look at burglary, sexual assault and other areas of crime and give forward, rather than retrospective, guidance.

My hon. and learned Friend makes an excellent point, as usual, which I had not thought of. No doubt that is why he is the Solicitor-General and I am two Benches behind him. He is absolutely right and I entirely agree with him.

I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon only inasmuch as although I think the Court of Appeal should indeed retain the overarching ability to indicate to lower court judges the framework within which sentencing must take place, I also consider the existence of the Sentencing Council to be important for the reasons I have indicated. The council’s guidelines ensure a large measure of consistency between sentences that are handed down for similar, if not identical, crimes across the entirety of England and Wales. For that reason, although I understand that there is a cost implication with the maintenance of that body and that it can be described, as it always is, as a quango—indeed, some would say it is a quango we should dispense with—it is a body that should continue to exist if we are to encourage confidence in the sentencing regime in England and Wales.

I hesitate, particularly given the time, to say very much about the hon. Member for Hammersmith’s spirited defence from the Front Bench of the sentencing regime and the way in which sentencing was treated by the previous Government, but it is right to point out that a large number of criminal justice Acts were passed under the previous Administration. If he were to go, as I recommend he should—perhaps he already has—and talk to those who had to use that legislation and were bound by it in their sentencing exercises, he would find a universal, or near-universal, level of criticism, particularly regarding the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Many of the measures that the previous Government introduced, such as custody plus, which was the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon, were never brought into being or had to be changed in subsequent Acts. The difficulty with the previous Government’s approach was that it sought to micro-manage the judiciary and to remove large elements of discretion so that the sentences that were passed did not necessarily reflect the offences of which the accused had been convicted or for which a guilty plea had been entered. Sentencing became, to a large extent, a tick-box exercise, which as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, at least by implication, and as other Members acknowledged, is a most unsatisfactory way of proceeding. I listened to the spirited defence from the Opposition Front Bench, although I sought not to intervene, but I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the approach the Government are taking in their reforms is the right one and I commend it to the House, as indeed I commend the motion.

With leave of the House, I shall make a few comments about the debate. It was a good, intelligent debate—even enjoyable. That may say something about what lawyers find enjoyable, but it cannot often be said about five hours on a Thursday afternoon.

We began with contributions from not one, but two Select Committee Chairs. One may simply hear the bits one wants to hear in speeches and filter out the rest, but in the words of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who sadly has had to leave for another engagement, I heard echoes of what I thought I was saying in my opening speech about the importance of evidence-based and explicable sentencing decisions. As he said, sentencers should see the effects of their sentences—what does and does not work. He also mentioned the importance of early intervention and the work of the youth offending teams.

The right hon. Gentleman’s words were reflected in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who chairs the Home Affairs Committee. His was a reasoned voice for early intervention and for rehabilitation.

Then we moved on to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I worry that I may find myself agreeing with him too often. I am not sure that I should lock up all the people he would lock up; in that case, as the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) said, quite a few people on the Opposition Benches and even one or two on the Government side might find themselves locked up at some stage. However, when the hon. Member for Shipley talks about the release of violent offenders who are still a danger to the public, about taking away the discretionary powers of magistrates and judges to remand or about the now abandoned policy of 50% discounts for guilty pleas, I think the Opposition are with him.

As getting the hon. Gentleman to agree with me is already a red-letter day for me, I shall push my luck. In the last Parliament, his Government introduced a system whereby people who were tagged could have that time knocked off their prison sentence, in the same way as remand in prison would be. Will he repent of that measure and agree that the time people are on a tag should not count towards time knocked off a prison sentence?

For this afternoon, it would be above my pay grade to start making policy on the hoof. I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman on that point. I am always keen to keep him happy, as is the Lord Chancellor.

We heard a measured contribution from the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson). He talked about local discretion and variation, but also about consistency. I am not sure whether in the end he came to a different view from that expressed by other Members—that the Sentencing Council regime is to balance clear guidelines for consistency with judicial discretion.

I am always glad to hear from the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) because she brings much experience to bear. I am always grateful when I hear her defending legal aid lawyers and legal aid, and I hope we may see her vote accordingly when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill comes back from the Lords, hopefully in a substantially amended form. She gave a vote of confidence in the judiciary—all credit to her—and talked about the great advances in dealing with domestic violence offences. Perhaps she will also join the Opposition in condemning changes to domestic violence courts where they are being closed as a result of the court closure programme. I hope they will be replaced and the regime expanded. I note that she said that IPP sentences were a good idea in theory. If so, surely we should work towards making them more effective in practice, rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) said about the judiciary, which as a practitioner he has much experience of, and about the Supreme Court—I am sorry that he is no longer in the Chamber. I agreed with him less when he was scoring points about the previous Government’s regime. It is convenient on these occasions for Government Members to forget the 43% fall in crime that occurred under the previous Government, and it is convenient for him to criticise us for the early release schemes but not address the IPP sentences or the 15% discounts when he says that he agrees fully with the Government.

I heard from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) the voice of the victim, not the voice on behalf of the victim. His points were well made, particularly the fact that the victims of burglary and many other crimes are predominantly on low incomes and come from poorer parts of society. That is why the Opposition will do everything we can to see that punishment is appropriate and reoffending is prevented, and detection and sentencing are absolutely vital for that.

The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, who is now in his place, made a clear case, and one that should be heard in this House, for the reduction in prison numbers. I praise him for that, even if I did not always agree with him. I agreed absolutely when he talked about the need for effective community punishments and the previous Government’s record on reducing youth custody by 30%. He raised the subject of young adults and 18 to 24-year-olds in prison, which I know the Prison Reform Trust is currently looking at. It is a neglected area. However it is to be dealt with, whether it is through NOMS—the National Offender Management Service—or whether it is through the Youth Justice Board, it is an area to which we urgently need to turn our attention. I agree with him about cuts in magistrate training, but it is also about the sentences and orders that magistrates can commit to. The magistrates in my constituency, both those on the lay benches and the district judges, know their powers very well, but sometimes they find that they are simply not available to them, as is the case with drug treatment orders, which is a source of great frustration to them.

All I can say about the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) is that I enjoyed his speech very much—I will leave it at that. He talked about the constitution and fettering discretion, but he should also look at the increase in mandatory sentencing and the restrictions on the rights of sentencers in bail matters, because we regard those as worrying trends.

I enjoyed the speech made by the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), which was on behalf of victims and reminded us that the protection of the public is crucial to the criminal justice system. I also enjoyed the speech made by the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), particularly when he talked about restorative justice, on which I think there is much cross-party consensus, with the caveat that it is not a soft option but must be properly resourced. His comments, and those of the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), offered the insider’s view on the Sentencing Council. It was interesting to note the points of difference, but they gave a fairly strong endorsement of many of the things that that body does, such as the research and work on consistency.

I thought that the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) gave a liberal—he almost used the word himself—speech, and there is no shame in that sometimes. [Interruption.] Well, we will see. He spoke as a non-lawyer with sympathy for lawyers and for courts, even saving a court himself, which is a rare thing to hear from those who are not lawyers, so I pay tribute to him for that.

We heard a warning at the end of the debate from the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham that interference in the sentencing process, which we sometimes hear from the tabloid press, is not a good idea. Against that, the influence on sentencing policy and trends that the general public, and even the press, bring from time to time, is welcome.

Just as with criminal justice more generally, all sides of the House need to state clearly that we should have no reservations about putting people in custody when that is necessary for public protection. Equally, however, we should look at alternatives that will provide punishment but might also provide better options for rehabilitation. When looking at sentencing policy, we should combine those two essential aims.

This debate is about transparency and consistency. I believe that the Sentencing Council is delivering that, together with the common sense and expertise of citizens and juries, and of the judiciary, who have been praised on all sides of the House today. If we have that balance—we have gone a long way towards achieving it—it will be an area in which there can be consensus, and we can feel assured that at least in that area of the criminal justice system, we are achieving a system that the public want. The public can then feel confident that we will deliver solutions to crime that are just, fair and, when they need to be, punitive.

I think that I am the 16th contributor to the debate, and it is not surprising—indeed, it is welcome—that although the debate is entitled “Transparency and consistency of sentencing”, and we are required by the motion to have

“considered the work of the Sentencing Council and the transparency and consistency of sentencing”,

contributions from right hon. and hon. Members have dealt with a number of wider issues within the criminal justice system. I congratulate the two Deputy Speakers who have chaired our debate on permitting such a liberal approach to the terms of the motion, which has allowed a number of informed and informative contributions.

I confess I thought that at some stages in the debate, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) who, at least this afternoon, speaks for the Opposition on such matters, had been sentenced to a period of solitary confinement. For considerable periods he was the only Labour Member who thought it appropriate to remain in the Chamber. He, poor fellow, had no liberty and no discretion about whether to sentence himself to time in the Tea Room or somewhere else. It was a pleasure to see him sitting there silently for much of this afternoon. He has assisted us greatly with two contributions. Many people will no doubt find assistance from reading, with great care, what he had to say, in tomorrow’s Hansard. His praise for our judiciary and the criminal justice system was of considerable value, and the sentiment was shared across the House. I think he said that there was no room for complacency. If he did say that, he was right to do so.

From listening to the speeches of Government Back Benchers, I think it is fair to say that while there is universal acceptance of the high quality of our judiciary, from the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, to the lay magistracy, there is no room for complacency and plenty of room for public comment. There is plenty of room for Members of Parliament—indeed, there is a duty on them, when it is appropriate—to make stinging comment, often in offensive terms. It is the right and duty of a Member of Parliament to speak up for his constituents or for a particular group of citizens who have strong views. It is right that my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and for Shipley (Philip Davies) come to this place not to agree with everything that goes on, but to disagree and explain why they disagree. The Government and the Opposition can make judgments about their contributions and reach a rational conclusion about whether to agree or disagree with them. I am grateful to both of them, and indeed to all Members who have taken part in the debate.

As I said, it is not surprising that our debate has been spread widely. We have considered the work of the Sentencing Council and whether it is a constitutional abomination that is interfering with the freedom of Englishmen. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) that in some senses I hope it is interfering with the freedom of Englishmen who commit crimes and deserve to be sentenced to terms of imprisonment or, if their offences are not so hideous, to non-custodial disposals.

I know that my hon. Friend is a man who thinks a great deal about a great many things, and it is clear that he has thought a great deal about the difficult constitutional issues that are revealed in any discussion of the separate roles of Parliament, judges, juries and the Sentencing Council. None the less, I disagree with his conclusion if it genuinely is that the Sentencing Council is an affront to the liberty of Englishmen.

During the passage of the legislation that the last Government introduced setting up first the Sentencing Guidelines Council and then the Sentencing Council, I expressed the view that there was a danger that those bodies would interfere with the discretion of the judiciary. I said that both as a Member of Parliament and as someone who has sentenced people—until I came into government in 2010, I used to sit as a Crown court recorder, like my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips). I think if my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border were to sit either as a spectator in the public gallery or alongside the judge—or even, dare I say it, if he were to imagine what it must be like to sit in the dock and hear a judge promulgate a sentence—I do not think he would be in any doubt whatever that our judiciary is not fettered in the way that I feared it might be, and the way he perhaps implied it was, by the guidance of the Sentencing Council.

Time and time again as Solicitor-General, I have appeared in the Court of Appeal criminal division referring what I consider to be unduly lenient sentences to the Court for review. I remind the House that I do that not as a member of the Government but as an independent Law Officer protecting the public interest. When I do so, I am constantly reassured that the Court of Appeal reminds the judiciary and the public who are in court that the sentencing guidelines are simply that—guidelines. When it is just to depart from them, the judiciary must do so. When it is just to show mercy, it is right and proper that the court should do that.

In cases such as the riots, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State referred, it is right that sentencing judges in London, Birmingham, Liverpool or Manchester can go beyond the range of sentences recommended in the guidelines for affray, robbery, burglary of shops, arson or whatever it may be. The Court of Appeal and the Lord Chief Justice have said that given the context in which the crimes were committed, it was entirely proper that the sentencing judge should go beyond the sentence that might normally be expected for, let us say, the theft of three bottles of water, a cardigan or a pair of trainers from a shop.

It seems to me that we need to bear in mind the context in which the Sentencing Council does its work. Yes, the situation has changed from what happened 20, 30 or 40 years ago, when we relied only on the Court of Appeal to set out guidelines. However, now that we have the council I am, if not an enthusiastic convert, a convert who is prepared to say that its work, and previously that of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, has demonstrated its worth.

I should like to echo those who thanked Lord Justice Leveson—I am thinking particularly of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), the Chairman of the Justice Committee. Lord Leveson’s work on sentencing is in addition to his ongoing inquiry into the press and his work as an ordinary member of the Court of Appeal. He has to fit in sitting days in the Court of Appeal and deal with the work of the Sentencing Council in addition to his work on the Leveson inquiry, so I hope it will not be suggested that that judge, let alone any other judge at that level, shirks in his public responsibilities. He is working extremely hard and producing good work.

However, the fact that the council produces those guidelines does not mean that we must agree with them. Members of Parliament can disagree with them, as can members of the public who read about sentences in their local or national newspapers. We can form our own views, but as my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said at the outset, Members of Parliament must be a little careful when we express such views, because the public expect us to have opinions based on fact, not simply on conjecture or rumour, or on a bad report of a case that we read in the newspaper. When Members of Parliament disagree with a sentence that a Crown Court judge has arrived at, we are under rather more of a duty than the young reporter or the ordinary member of the public to do our best to find out the facts.

One good way of finding out the facts is to ask the House of Commons Library to do the research for us. Another good way of increasing our knowledge of what the Crown Courts and other sentencing courts do is to go and sit in them, which I did in opposition. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends and the few Labour Members in the Chamber to go to their local Crown court to see what happens. Friday is a very good day to do so because it is often the day when the sentencing lists are dealt with.

I take what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said about cases sometimes being dealt with by one judge at one instance and then being referred to another judge, but by and large, I like to think that happens only when they are dealing with cases in which there is a guilty plea followed by a sentence. The sentencing judge on a guilty plea is in just as good a position as the judge that received the plea. The important thing to bear in mind—this is a piece of advice that the Court of Appeal constantly gives, and my right hon. and learned Friend and I constantly give it to the Crown Prosecution Service, which we superintend—is that the factual basis on which the plea is made is established. Sentencers cannot sentence in a vacuum. It is essential that the facts of the case as admitted or as found by the jury are clear, so that the sentencer knows precisely on what basis he is sentencing.

Will the Solicitor-General reassure the House that the basis of pleas are reduced into writing—that they are court documents? Transparency is an important part of that process, as has been emphasised by all courts, including the Court of Appeal, for some years now.

I am sure my hon. Friend is right about that—he will know that from his experience both as an advocate and as a sentencer. It is utterly frustrating to have to analyse sentencing remarks that are based if not on conjecture, then on a total lack of knowledge of the facts. Advocates—those who appear for the Crown and the defendant—have a duty to ensure that the court is given the facts.

Advocates also have a duty to ensure that the court is advised about the relevant sentencing law and powers. One of the problems, or unintended consequences, of the raft—I was going to say the flood—of legislation passed by the Labour Government was that those Acts had something to do with amending the criminal justice system. The previous Government were not so silly as to call every one of those 64 Acts of Parliament a criminal justice Act, but I can assure the hon. Member for Hammersmith that 64 pieces of legislation passed between 1997 and 2010 affected the way the criminal justice system worked. It is completely—I will not use an unparliamentary expression—confusing to have to sit there and try to work out which piece of legislation deals with which type of offence and whether that legislation is in force, not yet in force or out of force.

Let me take the example of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which is almost as thick as this great tome—the wonderful “Vacher’s Parliamentary Companion”—in my hand. Before this Government came into office, I asked a parliamentary question of the previous Government, and it was quite clear that they had simply mismanaged the conduct of that piece of legislation. About a third of it was repealed before it even came into force. Another third was not in force by the time the previous Government left office. Individual bits of the remaining third were brought into effect, and we are now having to repeal them—I am talking, for example, about the IPP legislation. Other bits were also brought into force by the previous Government, but they then realised they needed to repeal them.

What we require from the House, therefore, is an understanding that legislation needs to be thought about. We need, of course, to consult—this is what the Sentencing Council does—the people who have to apply it and the people it will affect. We need to work out what we will get if we pass what I call early-day motion legislation—expensive appeals; judges telling my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor that statutory construction is hell; and a huge lack of public confidence and satisfaction in the justice system.

My hon. and learned Friend may remember—I wonder whether he agrees with this—that, in March 2006, Lord Justice Rose, speaking of the 2003 Act, which most of the judiciary consider to be the worst criminal justice Act of all time, said:

“Time and again during the last 14 months, this Court has striven to give sensible practical effect to provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, a considerable number of which are, at best, obscure and, at worst, impenetrable.”

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it was not the high point of Labour’s justice policy?

On that point, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the 3,000 new offences brought in by the Labour Government had little effect in reducing crime? It was simply a case of legislation being made for the sake of making legislation, rather than making a real difference to people’s quality of life.

I do agree. We made the same points during the passage of the 2003 Bill, as it then was, and subsequently.

The hon. Gentleman has been very lucky—he has been allowed two goes. I have two more minutes, so he will just have to sit there and wait.

In the final minutes remaining to me, I want to thank the hon. Member for Hammersmith for his contributions, which were utterly valuable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed contributed thoughtfully and with all the experience he has gained as the Chairman of the Select Committee. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has now gone. I am afraid that I had to cut him short because I thought his remarks were straying into an area we should not stray into until the case he wanted to talk about is completed. I mentioned the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley and for Gainsborough. I am sorry I do not have time to deal in detail with the points they made, but I commend them on the forceful way in which they put them across. It is important that Members of Parliament do not just sit there like lemons, but get up and speak for their constituents.

Furthermore, if Members have particular experience —my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and I have both been victims of several burglaries, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry)—we should use that personal experience. However, we should also use our professional experience, and a number of lawyers have brought to the House their experience as lawyers and as Members of Parliament. Their work as Members of Parliament is all the better for it. I am thinking of my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) and for South Swindon, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. I apologise for not commenting in detail on the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael). I also wanted to comment on the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard)—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).