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Sentencing Policy

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 16 March 2021

This question is about sentencing, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is before the House on Second Reading today, will see whole-life orders for premeditated child murder. It will see life sentences imposed for causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence. It will also see longer prison sentences for rapists, which I believe the Labour party plans to vote against.

This month, a Nottinghamshire removal man was convicted of possessing 8,000 indecent images and videos of children ranging from 15 to just one year old, with many classed as category A or extreme child pornography. This man was given a two-year suspended sentence and, as a result, is unlikely ever to see the inside of a prison cell. I welcome proposals to toughen sentencing and be tough on crime, but a sentence like that one seems to be inconsistent with that work. Will my hon. Friend look again at guidance that says that a suspended sentence is the same as a custodial one, because it is pretty clear that in practical terms that is not the case? Will he also ensure that people who commit serious crimes like that, where children have been exploited and abused, are given a punishment that fits the crime?

Individual sentencing decisions are obviously for the judge who sentences the case, having regard to the facts of that case, but we do take very seriously the kind of offences that my hon. Friend has described. In fact, the maximum penalty for the offence of taking indecent photographs of children is 10 years’ imprisonment. Where an offence is sentenced at a lower level and somebody thinks that that is inappropriate, they can apply under the unduly lenient sentence scheme within 28 days. In 2019, the Government added those kinds of offence to the list of offences eligible under that scheme. If anyone feels that a sentence is too light, I strongly urge them to make an application to the Attorney General under the ULS scheme, and she will then look at that again.

Reconviction rates in Scotland are at a 21-year low. That is because of the community justice approach of the SNP Government for less serious crimes. Even the Minister has admitted that harsher sentencing has

“limited or no general deterrent effect.”

It is not a competition; all countries can learn from each other. If he truly aspires to reduce reoffending—because that is what keeps people safe—will he at least consider a community justice approach, in the knowledge that it is working in Scotland?

I understand that Scotland has the highest rate of imprisonment of any country in western Europe, so I find the question slightly surprising. However, we do accept that, particularly for less serious offences, community sentences have a role to play in rehabilitating. That is why we are keen to expedite the roll-out of community sentence treatment requirements, whereby if someone has a mental health problem, a drug addiction problem or an alcohol problem, we treat that as a health problem as an alternative to short custody. That is being rolled out.