BUSINESS QUESTION – SENTENCING POLICY – 16 February 2006
Dr Julian Lewis: May we have a statement or debate on the way in which criminal sentences are described to the public when they are imposed? Last week we saw a great deal of publicity that Abu Hamza had been sentenced to seven years in prison, whereas the reality is that he will serve three and a half years. Would it not be more honest to tell the public that people have been sentenced to a range from three-and-a-half to seven years, so that people will not be disillusioned when they see that those whom they thought had deservedly been put away for a long time are out on the streets all too soon?
[The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Geoffrey Hoon): The Hon. Gentleman raises an issue that is regularly discussed in the House and with my right Hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Although my right Hon. Friend would accept that there are various circumstances that can lead to a reduction in a sentence, those reductions are not automatic. They are a necessary part of our sentencing system. They provide proper control over prisoners in prison, and although the Hon. Gentleman is right to point out that some people are not aware that discounts are available for good behaviour, the great majority of the public are aware of that. Indeed, in my experience most people assume that the discounts are rather greater than they are in reality.]