§ Amendment made: In line 1, leave out from "Provide" to second "for" in line 3.—[Mr. S. Silverman.]
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. Before we pass to Third Reading, may I submit to you that I should be allowed to move to recommit the Bill in respect of the three words left in Clause 1 (1)? The effect of what the House has done is to leave the words "Provided that this" in the Bill, followed by nothing whatever. In my submission, it is obvious that the Committee should have the opportunity of deleting these words.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is not necessary to recommit the Bill for this purpose. We are now proceeding to the Third Reading, and the practice of the House allows a purely verbal Amendment to be made on Third Reading. I will be prepared to hold that this is a purely verbal Amendment and one not altering the sense of the Bill in any way. If, when he rises to move the Third Reading, the hon. Member would first move a verbal Amendment to delete those words and that Motion is duly seconded and is agreed to by the House, it will be taken account of.
§ Mr. Simon
On a point of order. The acceptance of a manuscript Amendment at this stage, Mr. Speaker, is, I understand, a matter for your discretion. It is not a matter of right and, before you rule on it, I would ask you to take account of certain considerations. The proviso that appears in the printed copy of the Bill in page 1, line 10, was put in by a solemn vote of the House after the matter had appeared on the Notice Paper quite 784 clearly, so that it would be quite clearly understood as a matter of principle. It was debated at length by the Committee, and by a majority the Committee moved to insert the proviso. Today, we have had, by a parliamentary manceuvre—a perfectly legitimate parliamentary manceuvre so far as what appears in public is concerned—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. and learned Member who was addressing the House was purporting to speak on a point of order; but he is introducing a lot of considerations with which I am powerless to deal. I have only to make up my mind whether or not I shall allow this Amendment to be made at this late stage. Different opinions may be held as to what has transpired, with which I have nothing to do. My only interest in the Bill is that it should look intelligible when it leaves this House. From that point of view, I would myself be prepared to allow this verbal Amendment to be made. It does not in any way alter the sense of what the House has done; it merely removes a verbal blemish. For that reason, I propose to allow it.
§ Mr. Simon
I am sure that before you make up your mind to accept it, Mr. Speaker, you will hear me out. I do not propose to detain the House for very long. I had pointed out that this proviso was put in by solemn vote of the Committee when the Committee was fully apprised of what it was about. What has happened today quite clearly took place with the House of Commons not put on its guard as to the result of the transaction. Of that there can be no question at all—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not think that at this stage these considerations have anything to do with the matter. I can only allow the Amendment. It is for the House to decide whether it is passed or not. That is all that I am doing. Otherwise, I have to send the Bill to another place with the words "Provided that this" in it. Quite frankly, that does not seem to me to mean very much. If there are objections to removing the words, the hon. and learned Member can make his speech on the objections, but not on a point of order. I have decided, 785 and I think rightly, that it is better to have these words taken out as they now mean nothing, and if the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) moves to delete them on Third Reading I will accept his Motion.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon
Before coming to your conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I should be grateful if you would bear this further matter in mind. It is, of course, something for your discretion, and I am asking you, after hearing what I have to say, to exercise your discretion against a manuscript Amendment of this sort at this stage. Surely it would be better to let the Bill go to another place where attention would be drawn, by the curious form in which the Bill goes to the other place, to what has transpired, rather than to allow the manoeuvres that we have seen today to be consummated.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid that I cannot go into the question of what has happened today. I am asked only whether I will consent, on Third Reading, to a purely verbal Amendment to leave out words that have no meaning, and I think that I have done my duty to the House in coming to the conclusion that I should allow the Amendment. The hon. and learned Member is bringing in a number of outside considerations.
§ Mr. Silverman
I refrain from making any comment on anything that has been said, Mr. Speaker, and, with your leave, I beg to move, in page 1, line 10, that the words "Provided that this" be deleted.
§ Captain Charles Waterhouse (Leicester, South-East)
On a point of order. May I ask, Mr. Speaker, what is before the House at the moment? The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has not moved, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ Mr. Speaker
We have reached the stage of the Third Reading, but at that stage a formal verbal Amendment can be made, and then we will proceed to move the Third Reading.
§ Sir Robert Grimston (Westbury)
I think that it is permissible to make a few remarks on the Motion that these words be left out.
786 I do not propose to go into any question of undertakings which were come to between parties outside the House—
§ Sir R. Grimston
I do not propose to do that, because I do not think they are relevant, but I have to say that certain undertakings have not been carried out. What will appear to the country, of course, is that a provision which was put in during the Committee stage to retain the death penalty in certain circumstances has been removed at another stage. I think that it should be known that amongst some people there was an undertaking that that would not be done. I do not think that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was a party to it, but, through a certain manoeuvre in the House of Commons of which he took instant advantage, being a very experienced Parliamentarian,—
§ Mr. Silverman
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I have been accused of taking advantage of a manoeuvre, in phraseology and against a background that imports an implication that either I gave an undertaking or was party to an undertaking and then did not honour it. That charge ought not to be made unless it can be proved, and if it cannot be proved it ought to be withdrawn. The only undertakings that have not been honoured were not undertakings given by me or on my side in this argument.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I cannot see what this has got to do with whether the words be removed or not. It is another question, is it not?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I think I shall be speaking of matters within your recollection, Mr. Speaker, when I say that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne made the charge against me that I had been guilty of a breach of an undertaking with him.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Therefore, it is not really open to him to say that these sort of charges ought not to be thrown about.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that these personal matters will be amicably resolved. They really are not before me at the moment.
§ Mr. Simon
On a point of order. Further to what was said by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), at what stage is this Amendment moved? So far as I understood, the Third Reading of the Bill has not been moved. With respect, should it not be moved before any Amendment be moved?
§ Mr. Speaker
I asked when the Third Reading was to be, and the answer was "Now". We have reached that stage, though the Motion has not formally been made.
Amendment agreed to.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I do not propose to delay the House for more than a very few minutes. This is the third occasion on which the House has been invited to deal with the matter in principle. There was originally the Motion, which had an Amendment moved to it, and the House then adopted the Motion in favour of the abolition of the death penalty. Then there was the Second Reading of the Bill, when the House decided, by a significant majority, in favour of the principle of the abolition of the death penalty for murder in this country. Although I apprehend that it would be perfectly in order for any hon. or right hon. Member who wished again to debate that question of principle, I do not propose to do so; indeed, I should find it extremely difficult to add anything to the arguments which have been advanced by others than myself on each of the two previous occasions, and there would seem to be no necessity to do so.
In effect, this is almost, if it were constitutionally possible, a Fourth Reading, because the First Reading was unopposed on the first occasion in the autumn of last year. It does really seem that it would be superfluous and ineffective at this stage, though it might be in order to do so, to debate the principle of the Bill once again.
What I wish to do is to invite the Government to consider what their attitude will be, on the assumption which I 788 invite them to make for this purpose, that the House does in a little while give the Bill a Third Reading. It has been common ground throughout, as it was common ground in 1948, that this is not a matter which is best dealt with on the usual lines of a party division of opinion or a party vote. The division of opinion on the principle cuts across, at any rate to some extent, party lines, and in the Division Lobbies at every stage there have been Members of Parliament, both Aye and No, belonging to each of the two main parties. That is a question of simple fact, and any hon. Gentleman who doubts it might go to the Library and look at the Division lists, where he will find the statement to be really beyond reasonable controversy.
That has been so because the question of principle is one very deeply felt and deeply argued; indeed, there are gradations of opinion between those who are in favour of total abolition and those who are in favour of total retention. Even in the Divisions on the various Amendments, the absence of any party character to the controversy and to the Divisions has been the same; even the lines have crossed a little as between abolitionists and retentionists generally, some retentionists voting for some abolitionists' proposals and some abolitionists voting for some retentionists' proposals.
The whole matter has been accepted in the House of Commons, as I believe it has been generally accepted, as being a matter which stands outside the normal party controversy. It was dealt with at every stage in the House of Commons on that basis. Does the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. E. Partridge) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. E. Partridge (Battersea, South)
If the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne is prepared to give way, I wish to remind him of this. He says that it is accepted throughout the country. If he listened to one of his own party on the wireless in the "Women's Hour" last week, he would have heard her state emphatically that this question was a party line; and nobody contradicted her.
§ Mr. Silverman
In spite of that, I do think that it is not a party line, and never has been a party line; and I hope that, in spite of the hon. Member's reference, it will never become a party line.
789 That being so, there would not be much point in the Government leaving a decision to a free vote of the House of Commons if, once the decision of the House is known and ascertained on a free vote, the Government does not then accept the decision. If there were to be a situation in which the Government left a decision to a free vote of the House of Commons and then repudiated the decision of the House, that indeed would make nonsense of all our procedure; and I am sure that the Government have never had any intention of doing that. They made it perfectly clear on Second Reading that they had no such intention.
I will recall the words again in order to make sure that I am not doing any injustice to anybody on the point.
The Lord Privy Seal said on 16th February:I would say at once, in answer to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), himself an ex-Home Secretary, that when we have a free vote, we naturally expect …"We" being the Government—to base our actions, if perhaps after necessary further deliberations, on the decision of the House. The decision for hon. Members is therefore very serious."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 2635.]
§ Mr. Silverman
It was made on 16th February. I am not sure whether that was the date of the Motion or of the Second Reading. I think it was the Motion and not the Second Reading, but the hon. and learned Member will not, I am sure, seek to make any point of that.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. and learned Member says that it makes all the difference. I would be extremely surprised and a little shocked if the Government said it made all the difference.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. and learned Member must not prolong my speech. I have given way once and have dealt with the point he made. He is perfectly entitled not to agree with me and later to tell the House what he thinks is the right 790 view, but it would not be to his advantage or to the advantage of the House to try to debate this by interventions and answers. I repeat that I would be surprised and considerably shocked if the Government thought that statement made on the Motion did apply to the Bill. I will tell the hon. and learned Member and the House why. As soon as the Motion had been passed, the hon. and learned Member will remember, as we all remember, there were certain discussions, some behind the scenes. There are sometimes discussions behind the scenes. Some of them were on the Floor of the House. In those discussions, the question at issue was how the Government could best give effect to the undertaking that the Lord Privy Seal had given on their behalf on the occasion to which I have referred.
There were two views about that. One view—many people thought it was the better view—was that the Government could only give adequae effect to the undertaking they had given on the Motion by themselves then and there introducing a suitable Bill to give legislative effect to the principle which the House of Commons, on a free vote, had decided. The Government thought otherwise. The Government thought that effect would still be given to it if it were left to a Private Member to pilot a Bill through Second Reading, Committee stage, Report stage and Third Reading, and if the Government provided ample time for that to be done.
In the end, the Government—I think it fair to say, with my own express approval—decided on that course. What I am saying to the Government today is that every possible examination of the Bill, on a free vote of the House, has now been made. The position is a little different from what it was in 1948. In 1948, hon. Members will remember, the procedure was quite different. Then the understanding was that no attempt would be made to put this thing through in Committee stage on the Criminal Justice Bill but that time would be found on the Report stage. Of course, the effect was that in 1948 there was no detailed examination of the proposal at all. All that the House of Commons was able to do on the Report stage was to deal with the Clause as it stood. There was no possibility of discussing Amendments or exceptions, or qualifications of any 791 kind, and the result was that in another place there was an attempt to suggest that alterations should be made. It came back to the House of Commons, some alterations were made, and then again the thing was rejected.
What I am saying to the Government on this occasion is that the position is quite different. Now we have already had two full-dress debates about the principle, in addition to the uncontested First Reading. There was the Motion on 16th February and there was the Second Reading. I want to acknowledge with gratitude to the Government that they have fully carried out their pledge to provide sufficient time for proper examination of the Bill. I think it fair also to say that the Committee and the House have taken full advantage of that time. Every possible Amendment to the Bill which one could imagine could commend itself to anyone has been tabled. The Bill has been examined Clause by Clause, line by line and almost comma by comma.
I acknowledge that in drafting it is probably a better Bill now than it was when it was first presented. I acknowledge also that although in one moment of what I would call aberration the Committee did make a blemish on the Bill, but the House has handsomely made amends for that this afternoon. Therefore, I say the time has been extremely well used. What I am pressing on the notice of the Government is that no one will be able to say here or elsewhere that what the House does tonight is hasty or ill-considered. We have not been particularly fortunate in events outside. The atmosphere has not been altered in favour of abolitionists by some recent events, to which it would be out of order to refer specifically or in any detail.
No one can say, therefore, that what the House does tonight is not its fully considered and reconsidered opinion. Right or wrong, this is what the House of Commons thinks. I am a good enough, perhaps an old enough, parliamentarian not to despise that. I say that what our constituents are entitled to at our hands is the honest exercise of our judgment. That is what they elect us for. If in the end they lose confidence in us, if in the end they think we have done the wrong thing, they have their remedy 792 periodically. That is true of this House of Parliament but not true of another place.
I hope it is not an impertinence on my part, I do not intend it as an impertinence, but I should like to pay my personal tribute to a number of hon. Members, who do not agree with me in politics on any other single subject, for the courage and sincerity with which they have stuck to their opinions, sometimes under pressure. Whatever their constituents may think, I believe that in the end they will not lose by their demonstration of courage and sincerity. If they do, the reflection will not be on them but upon constituents so short-sighted as to prefer a Member of Parliament to act otherwise than in accordance with his conscientious opinion.
At the end of the day, it will not be possible to argue that there is anything hasty, anything ill-considered, in what the House of Commons does. Whatever it does, it will have done it with its eyes open and determined to do it because it believes it to be right. The Government, therefore, will be in possession of the fully considered, reconsidered, reviewed and considered again opinion of the House of Commons. I say to them with respect that it becomes their duty now—or will become their duty on the assumption that the House of Commons agrees to the Third Reading—and the only way in which they can now implement the undertaking they gave on 16th February last, to take the Bill over and make themselves responsible for it in all its future stages as a Government Measure.
I think that would be right in principle and there are certain obvious practical advantages if they do so. I hope it is not out of order to refer to what could possibly be the future history of the Bill. Of course, if another place is content to reach the same conclusion as the House of Commons, we shall all be delighted. Whatever may be thought in some quarters, I am perfectly certain that 12 months from now no one will remember there was any controversy about it, or understand what the controversy was about if he does. If in another place the Bill is rejected, I do not think that will alter the opinion either way of any Member of the House of Commons; nor do I think that the present rather anomalous but obviously practical solution in 793 practice could be in that event changed. Therefore, it seems to me that the utmost that another place could do, if it wished to do it, would be to alter—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I do not think that on Third Reading the hon. Member is in order in discussing what another place may do.
§ Mr. Silverman
If I am not in order, I shall not pursue it, but although I cannot deal with that, with what we ought to do if another place does this, that or the other, what I am seeking to do is to commend to the Government the practical wisdom of taking to themselves the responsibility for the future course of the Bill, having regard to the future possible alternatives. I hope that that is in order. If not, I shall not pursue it. In any event, I say that the most that would happen would be the possibility of deferring a formal amendment of the Statute Book by one—
§ Mr. Silverman
For all these reasons which it is in order for me to deploy, and for those reasons which, apparently, it is in order for me only to hint at, I say to the Government that the practical wisdom of the situation now is the same as the answer to the question, What is their proper duty under the undertaking which they gave?
If the House adopts the Third Reading tonight, the Government will have had what they asked for. They asked the House of Commons first to consider the principle on a free vote. They asked the House of Commons then to consider the Bill in detail, at every stage on a free vote. They asked the House of Commons to consider it, again on a free vote, on further consideration. They asked, or are now asking, the House of Commons to deal with it in principle, again on a free vote, on Third Reading. If the Third Reading is passed, the Government will have had from the House of Commons what they invited the House to give. I should think that, in those circumstances, the proper course for the Government to take would be to adopt it and pursue it and make themselves responsible for its future history.
If the Government take another view, I suppose it is reasonable to say that 794 we regard this now as an inevitable amendment of the law. We shall go on, whatever happens here or elsewhere, seeking to give effect to what has now been amply demonstrated to be the considered opinion of the House of Commons both in 1948 and now, eight years later, in 1956.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
I beg to second the Motion.
It must be a matter of some emotion for the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) to have reached what is the ultimate stage in this House in the passage of his Bill. I do not think that it would seem inappropriate for me, who agree with him upon this matter, if on no other, to offer him my congratulations upon bringing to this successful conclusion so important a Measure.
I must add to what he said about the Treasury Bench, in thanking my right hon. Friends for honouring their pledge to give the Bill time in the House, time for its Second Reading, time for its consideration in Committee and upon Report, in its proper place with other legislation. It is certainly true that I and all my hon. Friends on this side who have supported the abolitionist case have not, during these months, been subjected to any pressure whatever from our Front Bench or the Whips except that of honourable, open argument. In that sense it has been a happy passage.
I think that all of us have been conscious, whichever view we take, that none of us could be absolutely certain that he was right. That applies to both sides. We are not dealing with certainties. We are dealing with probabilities, very fine gradation of emotion, temperament, and of moral judgments. It is not capable of proof that the abolitionists are right. We base our case upon the argument that capital punishment is unnecessary and morally wrong, and the retentionists say the opposite, that it is necessary and morally right. None of us will ever know who was correct in those two conflicting judgments.
Some abolitionists, I suppose, though I am not one of them, would not reintroduce capital punishment even if murders were to increase quite suddenly to an unprecedented level and remain at that 795 level. I would add that that has never happened in the history of abolition, a history extending now over more than half a century in nearly 40 countries of the world. I daresay that there are some retentionists among us, but not many, who are incapable in any circumstances of admitting that they were wrong. Even if the murder rate—I take an impossible example—were to sink after abolition to one a year, still there would be some retentionists who would say that the death sentence was justified if only because it might have prevented that one.
I believe that most of us would be prepared to admit that the divisions there have been on this issue in the country and in this House and, if we are to believe reports in the newspapers, in the Cabinet itself, simply reflect the divisions in our own minds. But because there is that uncertainty I do not think it is any excuse for us to say we should do nothing about it. On the contrary, it has always been right that this House should constantly re-examine the assumption that the right penalty for illegal killing is legal killing.
Public opinion outside, and opinion in this House, has changed slightly during the passage of the Bill. The admission has been increasingly made that there is an element of retribution in the capital sentence. That was an argument from which the Home Secretary specifically dissociated himself on Second Reading of the Bill. But I fear that many people outside and some in this House have come to admit that they consider that it is right that murder should be punished by the death of the criminal, following the Old Testament argument of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
There have been others who have been very naturally swayed by the movement of opinion in their own constituencies. I have myself. I said in the debate upon the general Motion which preceded the introduction of the Bill, that in speaking and voting as I did I was very conscious that the majority of my constituents would speak and vote in the opposite sense did they but have the chance to do so. And that statement, which was intended to bring to the attention of the House the fact that I was disagreeing with the majority of those who sent me here, was taken by them, very naturally, though I regret it, as a deliberate affront. It was 796 novel doctrine to them that a Member of Parliament can vote and speak here in a sense which the people who sent him would disapprove.
I think it would be a great pity if we were to allow this to be established as a precedent, that when a free vote is given on a moral issue in the House the duty of the Member of Parliament is to do his best to discover what the majority opinion in his constituency is and vote in that way, whether he agrees with it or not. It would be a tragedy if Whips were to be removed at Westminster only to be reimposed in the constituency itself. The result of that would be that Members would come to dread the privilege of a free vote, instead of welcoming it. In this particular case, it is even less justifiable. A Member of Parliament should regard public opinion in his constituency as an element of great importance, but it should not be the element which over-rides all others.
In whatever proportions public opinion may now be divided as between the retentionist and the abolitionist case, of one thing there is no doubt at all—that public opinion is moving, and has been moving over the last 20 or more years, in the direction of accepting the abolitionist case. It may be, as the latest Gallup Poll indicates, that about 60 per cent, of our people are in favour of retention and 40 per cent. in favour of abolition. What is to happen, if as seems very likely, in a few years' time those proportions are reversed?
What is the duty of a Member of Parliament who is guided solely by the views in his constituency when, instead of 60 per cent. in favour of retention and 40 per cent. in favour of abolition, there are 40 per cent. in favour of retention and 60 per cent. in favour of abolition? Is he then, when he judges that 49 per cent. have changed to 51 per cent., to change his vote without changing his mind? Is he to change both his vote and his mind, or is he to change neither? What is he to do? He will then come to the conclusion, if he had not come to it sooner, that the only possible line he can take is to make up his mind on these moral issues as best he can.
I believe that public opinion is swayed by two things. The first I have already mentioned. It is the growing sense of retribution which I believe—and this is 797 a purely personal opinion—to be a very immoral idea, based on Old Testament teaching and at variance with the New Testament. And if it is not wrong or in bad taste to say this, I have regretted all the way through this controversy that there has been no authoritative guidance from the Church.
I have asked the church people in my own constituency what they thought, and it so happens that all whom I have asked have backed up my attitude; but I have not heard, during the course of these debates, any guidance given by any one of the leading churchmen of the land. That is one of the reasons why I welcome the fact that we have our second Chamber, in which our clergy are represented, and I hope that during the next few weeks that guidance which I have so missed up to now will be forthcoming.
The second factor which has governed public opinion has been the element of fear. Here, perhaps, I cannot entirely excuse those who have opposed me. They have consistently frightened the public. They have allowed it to be believed that the passage of the Bill would be followed by a wave of crime such as the public has never endured before. It is very natural that people should have taken notice of that. Already, far too much attention has been concentrated upon murder. It is, indeed, the glamour of murder which we will disperse by this Bill. A great many people have been persuaded by speeches made in this place and outside to fear the consequences of this Bill to an infinitely greater degree than is justified.
I wonder how many people in the country, in the course of their whole lives, will ever come directly into contact with murder or ever have any close friends or relatives into whose lives murder has entered. Very few indeed—about one-fiftieth of the number into whose lives comes death by accident on the roads or in the home. I believe that it is our duty to draw attention to the fact that we are dealing with one of the rarest of all crimes, and that nothing will stop murder, even murder of the most horrible type. Murder will go on as long as man lives, and nothing, not even torture, will stop all those who are determined to commit it.
I fear very much that before we have finished with the Bill a particularly 798 violent murder will arouse the horror of the whole country and may so split the nation and the House that we will never be able to complete its passage. I hope that that will not be so, for surely coincidence should play no part in our deliberations here. It is matter of complete irrelevance whether a particularly horrible murder takes place this week or this month, for what we are considering is the whole history of criminology, the experience of dozens of other countries, and our own future. We should think of those basic principles and not be swayed by purely accidental instances of the crime we are discussing.
I end by referring, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne did not, to the principle of the Bill, and I want shortly to explain to the House why it is that I favour it. As I look back upon English history I see that there has been a continual relaxation of penalties and a corresponding diminution of the crimes for which they were applied. We once tortured people in this country, we burned them, then we hanged, drew and quartered them. Then we had public executions. Then we had hanging for many hundreds of minor offences. One by one, over the course of about three hundred years, we managed to get rid of these excessive penalties, and on every single occasion it was prophesied that there would be a wave of that particular crime as a result of the abolition. In every single case, those who made that prophecy were wrong.
I have asked myself whether, if I had been speaking in this place a hundred years ago and it had come before us, as it did, that the penalty of death should be removed from about 200 petty offences, I should have voted for it or not. I can say to the House that I am sure I would have had great hesitation in doing so. And why? Because there was absolutely no proof at that time that the removal of the death sentence would not result in exactly what the judges, the police, and the Government of the day were prophesying, that there would be a wave of crime which would make it unsafe for any man or woman to stir out of their homes.
Today, we have the proof. That is what has made me an abolitionist. Temperamentally, I was opposed to violent punishment, and now, in addition, we have 799 the experience of other countries in the case of murder, and of this country in the case of lesser crimes, to prove that abolition does not lead to the violent outbreaks which had been foretold.
I need scarcely remind the House that some of us were saying in the earlier stages of this debate that abolition would be followed by an immediate increase in crimes of violence. It is now three or four months since it became virtually certain that no man would ever be hanged again in England for the crime of murder, and the figures which were published yesterday in the OFFICIAL REPORT, in answer to a Written Question, show that far from there having been an increase in murders since that decision was taken, the number of murders is less than the average in the same three months period in previous years. I do not draw any wide conclusions from this. I remember well my right hon. and gallant Friend saying that it would be 10 years before we could decide whether this Measure was proved right or wrong on the basis of pure statistics. But at least I think we are entitled to say that those who feared an immediate increase in crime have been proved wrong.
I do not think that there is a single hon. Member here who would have introduced capital punishment, did we not have it in this country. I do not think that there is anybody who would not think it a gain if we made this experiment, as we are now about to make it, and if, as a result, there was no increase in the murder rate over a long period of years. I do not think there is anybody who would not think it a gain if the confidence we have as Christians in the improvability of human character is justified, and it is proved once more that the violence in which we have indulged in our penal code is not necessary to curb violence even among the most criminal of our classes.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Major Gwilym Lloyd-George)
It now falls to me to advise the House what course should be taken on the Third Reading of this Bill. As the House will recollect, the attitude of the Government has been made abundantly clear, both in the debate on 16th February by my right 800 hon. Friend the Leader of the House and by myself during the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill. I shall have to say many things now which I have said before, but I only do so because I have great responsibility in the office I hold today. I am anxious to underline certain points which I have made before, because they are essential in a matter which is of such vital importance to this country.
During the course of the Second Reading debate, I said that I was of the opinion that capital punishment was a unique deterrent, and I still remain of that opinion. I do not think we should deprive the country of the protection which that affords. I shall not now make any conjecture, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson), about the wave of crime and so forth, but we cannot ignore the high level of crimes of violence at this moment, which I am sorry to say have been increasing. While I agree with my hon. Friend that we do not come here as delegates, I must at the same time point out that we cannot ignore the fact that public opinion is by no means convinced that abolition at this moment is right.
I have listened with close attention—I think the House will agree with me—during most of the debates that we have had on the Bill, but I have not yet heard anything which has made me want in the least to change the opinions that I expressed during the debates to which I referred just now.
So many of the arguments for abolition which have been put forward in this House and outside it have been based on emotion and, I regret to say, not always accurate references to particular cases. I want, in all seriousness, to ask the House during the Third Reading debate to face the facts as they are and to realise some of the consequences of passing the Bill into law.
The practice at the Home Office—I speak from my own experience, and I am certain that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will confirm what I say—is to look with the greatest possible care for any extenuating circumstances which may justify the Home Secretary in recommending a reprieve. That is, of course, the attitude of the Home Secretary as well, and I speak from my 801 own experience, and I am certain that the right hon. Member for South Shields would say the same from his own experience. The few murderers who are at present executed are, therefore, those in whose case the search for extenuating circumstances has failed.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I repeat both my first statement and my second statement. The greatest care is exercised to find extenuating circumstances. I speak from my own experience. If no extenuating circumstances are found, the law takes its course. That is what I said, and that is what I meant.
If the Bill is passed into law, what is to happen to those for whom no extenuating circumstances are found? I have said this before during the course of our debates, and I am compelled to repeat it. I do not think most abolitionists have yet faced up to the question of what is to happen to those people. I sometimes feel that it is a case of "out of sight, out of mind"; so long as the murderers are not executed, they think they have done their duty.
Some of these murderers, as I have said before, will be in prison for life. We have life imprisonment today, but that is not the same thing. Some of these people will be really in prison for life, a very different thing. Practically every speaker in favour of abolition has based his arguments on the alternative to the death penalty on the average period of detention of reprieved murders today. This is wholly misleading as a guide to what it will be necessary to do with murderers of the kind who are not now reprieved.
Murderers who are reprieved nowadays are released as a rule after an average of nine years. This is a relatively short period, and it is short precisely because it has been possible to find extenuating circumstances. Sometimes the extenuating circumstances are so strong that the period is even less than nine years.
But it does not follow that because a murderer who, for example, up to the date of his crime had led a perfectly blameless life and had a good character and had killed only in circumstances of great stress, or who is so immature that he ought not to be held fully responsible, 802 is required to serve only about nine years, murderers whose crimes have no extenuating circumstances and who are, perhaps, dangerous killers, can be released after anything like nine years. They may well have to be kept for long periods, some for very long periods, in conditions of close security. Such a punishment for a young, healthy, active man would in some cases be about the most cruel thing that society could inflict.
We cannot ignore another problem that would follow abolition. I want the House to take note of this point. There will be constant pressure on a Home Secretary, and not least from hon. Members of this House, to release a prisoner. The decision which a Home Secretary has to make under the law as it stands is a terrible enough decision, as everyone a preciates. Will it be any less so if the Bill is passed? The decision that the Home Secretary has to make today is whether the law should take its course or not. If the Bill becomes law he will have to decide whether to release a prisoner or not. The prisoner might have been in prison, in close confinement, for 20 years. As a dangerous criminal, he would have to be. The Home Secretary would have been under constant pressure, after a certain lapse of time, to release him after a long confinement. I have had experience of this very thing.
In certain circumstances, the Home Secretary's decision could do more harm to the public interest than it can today. Further, let me remind hon. Members of the pressure that is brought to bear upon a Home Secretary to remove one of these murderers to whom I have been referring, and who is serving a life sentence, to some other prison because of the fear of those who live near the prison where he happens to be confined that he might escape. People are terrified of the consequences. Again, this is not conjecture. It has actually happened since the Bill was introduced. The problem is not solved simply by abolishing capital punishment.
Abolition, if it comes about, will produce its own problems which, both morally and administratively, may be scarcely less difficult and which, in one way or another, closely concern hon. Members individually and collectively. The House will do the country no good if it shuts its eyes to these problems.
803 A number of attempts have been made during the passage of the Bill to insert exceptions to the general principle of abolition. They have been directed in the main to reducing the dangers which those of us who oppose abolition see in it, by giving society at large some protection against the armed criminal and by protecting the two classes of public servant, the police and the prison officers, who if capital punishment is abolished, will be particularly exposed to risk.
I am sorry that the House did not see fit to accept those Amendments which were designed to discourage criminals from carrying arms and to protect the police. If the Amendments had been accepted, they would have gone some way to reducing the dangers to which the public at large and the police will be exposed, and towards relieving the legitimate anxiety which is felt in many quarters in this country at the prospect of the abolition of capital punishment. The House has a responsibility for the peace and order of the country, and it should not fail to discharge it.
Certain events which have occurred recently have made me wonder whether the warnings which were given in earlier discussions on this subject are not proving justified even earlier than I had expected. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That noise is really no answer to the question I am posing. What I am referring to is the fact that this has happened, and I was simply saying that I wondered if it has not happened earlier than I predicted.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I do not suppose it has escaped the attention of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I am sure that he will remind the House of it, that if every single exception and Amendment proposed in Committee had been accepted by the Committee and was now in the Bill, the incidents and crimes to which he has just referred would still not have been covered.
§ Major Lloyd-George
The Amendments to which I was referring were those in regard to armed criminals, and they were designed to protect the police against persons carrying arms, which is what I am referring to. I do not think it makes any difference. The hon. Gentleman can look it up, and he will find it there.
804 I have been interested to see Questions on the Order Paper, particularly recently, from hon. Members of this House who are supporters of this Bill, who, apparently, are becoming rather anxious about gangs. I have even been asked by one hon. Member opposite to increase the penalties for crimes committed by gangs. Here we are today engaged in reducing one penalty for the most serious offence which a member of a gang can commit.
I regret very much that another Amendment, which I thought would have been all right, was rejected. It related to the protection of public servants, like the prison officers, whom I think we have a special duty to look after, particularly if this Bill goes through. They are entitled to our consideration because they have a difficult, thankless and, very often, extremely dangerous job. The records show that all persons under sentence who have murdered prison or Borstal officers in this country—there have been five of them in recent years, or in this century—have been serving sentences other than life imprisonment. Persons in this category, and they include inmates of Borstal and the overwhelming majority of prisoners, will, if this Bill is passed, be able to make murderous attacks on prison officers without running the risk of hanging.
This is a very different type, and I must point out to the hon. Gentleman who is the promoter of the Bill that he was saying what a ridiculous Amendment—I think he called it "monstrous nonsense"—my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) was moving, and went on to say "Here you are, trying to make provision for a crime that has never been committed." That may be so, but the point is that the type of life prisoner, that is, the reprieved murderer, is a totally different type from the life prisoner who will come in as a result of the passing of this Bill.
§ Mr. Silverman
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has missed the point, and again I am quite sure that it is my own lack of lucidity that has misled him. What made the thing ridiculous in my opinion was that this type of murder has not only not been committed in any retentionist country, but not either in any abolitionist country, which destroys the right hon. and gallant Gentelman's point completely.
§ Mr. Howard Johnson (Brighton, Kemptown)
Does my right hon. and gallant Friend include the late Mrs. Ruth Ellis amongst that dangerous class of criminal?
§ Major Lloyd-George
That again, is entirely beside the point. I was saying that the hon. Gentleman's point was that it was a stupid Amendment because it was going to punish people for something that should never have occurred.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
On a point of order. On the Third Reading of a Bill, is it not out of order to discuss Amendments?
§ Major Lloyd-George
I was using it only as an illustration. If the Bill becomes law, the type of person to which the hon. Member is referring will be a totally different one, and will include men of a very violent and dangerous character.
Up to date, we have enjoyed the lowest homicide rate in the world—and we should not forget that. We are fortunate in that so far our professional criminals are rarely armed. In this country murder is regarded with special abhorrence. We are now asked to take a step which may well result in more murders being committed; which will remove the most powerful deterrent against criminals carrying arms, and may weaken the barrier which sets murder apart as the crime of crimes.
I would ask all hon. Members to weigh very carefully the advantages which we may lose and the risks we may run in that case. As I have done before, I would ask all hon. Members, when they vote, to remember that they are responsible for the safety, order and well-being of this country. This issue has never been placed before the electorate. I still believe that most of the people are opposed to the Bill, and I recommend the House to vote against its Third Reading.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray (Berwick and East Lothian)
I agree with nearly every word that the Home Secretary has uttered, except, perhaps, his 806 reference to the fact that this country has the lowest homicide rate in the world. I thought I might possibly correct him about that because Scotland has a lower rate than England, and the Scottish rate is lower than the United Kingdom rate.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I was speaking for Scotland, too. It was very wrong of me not to make that clear.
§ Sir W. Anstruther-Gray
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is leaving the Chamber.
§ Sir W. Anstruther-Gray
I see that the hon. Member has returned. I was not going to make any complaint at his leaving; I was going to pursue a custom which is followed quite often in this House when it is considering the Third Reading even of a very controversial Bill, namely, of paying tribute to the hon. Member in charge of it, and who looks as if he will be successful in obtaining a Third Reading, even though one has differed fundamentally from every point which he has put. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne for his personal achievement.
Having said that, I hasten to add that no argument of his has caused me in any way to alter my own point of view, which is that in changing the present law we are making a considerable mistake in England and a much greater mistake in Scotland—because at present Scottish law is working for a minimum of bloodshed and giving the country the maximum protection by deterring those who might otherwise commit murder.
If I should become controversial I would point out that the fundamental difference, throughout the whole debate, seems to arise from the fact that those who support the Bill look at the problem purely from the point of view of the murderer. To my mind, the position of the murderer is much less important than the feelings of those many thousands of people who are acutely anxious lest murder should cross their path. My hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. H. Nicolson) said that 50 people were run over for every one who came in touch with murder. That may be, but every evil has 50 shadows. Forty-nine may be 807 illusory but, even so, the shadow of terror exists among a lot of old folk—and not only old folk.
It exists among old ladies living alone, and parents who are afraid for the safety of their children when a razor slasher is about, and wives who are anxious about the safety of their husbands who may be night watchmen, prison warders, or even policemen. I think it is the duty of hon. Members to give these people the feeling that we are leaving no stone unturned to preserve them and their near and dear ones from the danger of being murdered or coming across murder.
I believe that the death penalty is a deterrent and I am quite certain that the great majority of my constituents believe it to be a deterrent against murder. Therefore, they will wish me to do my best to see that that deterrent is preserved. I said that the case is strong for England. It is surely incomparably stronger for Scotland. The Lord Advocate is in the Chamber. How it came that he persuaded the Secretary of State for Scotland not to support the Amendment excluding Scotland from the operation of this Bill I shall never understand.
The Secretary of State was entirely in sympathy with his right hon. and hon. Friends who represent Scottish constituencies. He said:I agree with my hon. Friends … when they reasonably contend that the Amendment should have the Government's sympathy.That is, the Amendment to exclude Scotland—I must confess that it has my personal sympathy. The Government have already indicated their disagreement with the underlying principles of the Bill and to that extent I agree that the exclusion of Scotland from the scope of the Bill and the preservation of the existing law in Scotland could be represented, as in accord with the Government's general view; that is a perfectly logical view to take. For those reasons the Government view the Amendment with sympathy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 2175–6.]Why, then, did my right hon. Friend see fit to take the view that he could not support the Amendment to exclude Scotland from the Bill? He took it because he was advised that it would make the position anomalous if the same crime in Scotland and in England were to be treated with a different penalty—
§ Sir W. Anstruther-Gray
The hon. Member says, "Hear, hear". Surely he is not ignorant of the state of affairs today regarding murder, where the position is that in Scotland a murderer has a far greater chance of avoiding the death penalty than in England. Surely the hon. Member, and the Lord Advocate, must be well aware that under the law of diminished responsibility—
§ Mr. Howell
I do know. Like the Home Secretary, I have listened to most of the speeches during the discussions on the Bill. We were advised that in Scotland a murderer could be reprieved, if he committed a crime under the stress of emotion, and most crimes of this type are so committed. I am well aware of that.
§ Sir W. Anstruther-Gray
That confirms the point I am making, that already the crime of murder is treated differently in Scotland compared with England. Therefore, the search of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate to create uniformity so that the same crime would receive similar punishment was a search based on no real fact.
What about attempted murder? I do not know whether the supporters of the Bill realise that, if it is passed, it will, in theory, be providing an incentive to murder in Scotland. Under the Criminal Law (Scotland) Act of 1829 an attempted murderer in Scotland was, and still is, liable to the death penalty provided that his attempt, had it been successful, would have caused the victim to die. If we bring that to its logical conclusion, what does it mean? If a man is robbing with violence when armed, and if he attacks and injures his victim and then ties him up before completing the robbery and the victim lives, then undoubtedly the man could be prosecuted for attempted murder and undoubtedly he could be made liable for hanging.
However, under the Bill it will be quite clear that if, instead of stopping at attempted murder he goes further and finishes off his victim, then the man will be excused the penalty of death. Therefore the Bill, which is ill-suited to the state of affairs in Scotland, actually provides an incentive to murder. That is why I feel so disturbed at the prospect of the Bill receiving a Third Reading and why I am so unhappy that we were 809 not successful in excluding Scotland from its operation.
We went a period of no fewer than 17 years in Scotland, from 1928 to 1945, without requiring to execute anybody. The average that it has been necessary to execute has not exceeded one person per year for the last 10 years. It has been absolutely true to say that nobody has been executed who has not been guilty of deliberate intentional murder. If we do our duty and preserve our fellow men from who deliberately and intentionally murder, it seems to me that we are doing right, whereas if we allow those who murder to have the certainty that they cannot possibly be called upon to suffer the ultimate penalty of death, then we are doing a very wicked thing by supporting the Third Reading of this Measure.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Younger
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) on having conducted this rather difficult Measure through the House to its present stage. It is not very often that a Private Member's Bill occupies so long a time on the Floor of the House or that there are so many Divisions and tests of the House's opinion on a free vote.
Coming at the end of a very long controversy—not only the controversy which has gone on for fifty years or more but the more immediate controversy beginning with a vote in the House last year, followed by the preliminary debate this year and the full procedure of a Bill—I think we can be in no doubt that the House has freely and very doggedly expressed its genuine and carefully thought-out views on this topic. Despite what the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Partridge) has quite wrongly suggested, it has, fortunately, not become a party matter. I am certain that no undue pressure has been brought by the Whips or anyone else on either side.
Nevertheless, I think it legitimate to make this one comment which has a certain party atmosphere to it. It might be said that this is only one Parliament and that Parliaments come and go, but when we think how the voting has been divided among the parties, when we think that an increased Conservative majority as between the last Parliament and this has had the result of an increased vote for 810 abolition, and when we think how unlikely it is that a turn of the wheel and a majority for the Labour Party would result in a decreased vote for abolition, we are bound to come to the conclusion not only that this House has registered a very well-considered view, but that it is very unlikely that a future House will change the verdict.
I therefore invite the Government, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, if this Bill is given a Third Reading, as I hope will be the case, to consider revising their attitude to the further stages before the Bill reaches the Statute Book. Indeed, if they do not revise their attitude it is difficult to see how they can consider that they are fully honouring the half-promise—I will not call it a pledge—which was given. I gather that the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) does not agree. I am sorry if he seeks to make light of this Government statement. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne read out what was said on behalf of the Government, and I have very fairly not described it as either a whole promise or a pledge. This is what was said:… when we have a free vote, we naturally expect to base our actions, if perhaps after necessary further deliberation, on the decision of the House. The decision for hon. Members is therefore very serious."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 2635.]I think I am not exaggerating in suggesting that that was a half-promise to the House that whichever way the House voted, the Government hoped to base their subsequent actions upon that.
The arguments on the merits have been so often repeated that I will not go over them again. What it was necessary to say on that score could scarcely have been better said than it was said by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson). We have recently listened to the Home Secretary, and I am sure he would not regard it as a discourtesy, nor would he seek to deny it, if I said that he produced nothing new. He said that he would repeat largely what he had said already. What he said were perfectly legitimate arguments from his point of view, and all I can say in answer is that he gave those arguments at the beginning, we have had them all in our minds throughout, we have weighed them, and they have been again and again rejected.
811 I was a little sorry that when speaking of the alternative to the death penalty he said that the abolitionists had not faced this matter squarely. It is, of course, perfectly true that it is no part of the duty of the promotors or supporters of the Bill to provide in detail a scheme of a prison regime or a new practice on the part of the Home Secretary to replace the death penalty. All that was necessary—and this is what has been done—was to give the one simple alternative of life imprisonment. Nevertheless, it is unfair to say that this matter has not been properly faced and considered. A great deal was said on the original Motion and on Second Reading, and the very long chapter on the subject of the alternative which appeared in the Royal Commission's Report has taken this question a great deal further than it was when we discussed the matter a year or two ago. I beg leave to suggest that it is probable that those in favour of abolition of the death penalty have read in greater numbers that chapter, and indeed the whole of the Royal Commission Report, than is the case with those supporting retention.
This brings me to something which did strike me in the speech made by the Home Secretary—his reluctance to take into account any experience elsewhere. Of course, if one limits oneself to this country, it is impossible to prove in any absolute way that if something is done here which has not been done here before such and such will happen; but it may be a valid argument, which can accumulate into a very powerful argument, to see what has happened elsewhere. It was striking that, in discussing the alternative and all the other matters he quoted, the Home Secretary was unwilling to take into account the experience of other places where there is abolition.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was perfectly entitled to take the line he did, and to say that he would advise the House against giving this Bill its Third Reading. We all knew that that was logically what he must say tonight. Nevertheless, I do hope for a favourable response to the appeal made by my hon. Friend, that the Government may feel it possible to be a little more helpful in the later stages. We have, of course, respected the Government's right to 812 oppose at every stage the promotion of this Bill, and we ask them now, on the assumption that the vote will be in favour of the Third Reading, at this stage to respect our carefully given and repeatedly given verdict and to help this Bill on to the Statute Book.
My final comment is that if there are any hon. Members still in doubt about their vote, and it seems a little unlikely at this stage, I would ask them whether they do not think that, irrespective of what happens on the vote tonight, the authority of the death penalty is already largely ebbing away? Have we not really reached the stage, so familiar prior to every other great reform of the criminal law, when there is so large a section of the public opinion against the particular practice—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not claiming any particular figure, but there can be no doubt that there is a large section of opinion against it. I am suggesting that it is so large a section that it has really become impossible to implement the practice of the death penalty exactly as in the past.
When a law which has such important consequences and goes so deeply into moral feelings and emotions as does this one, comes to be regarded by many as a relic of a past era, it is very damaging to the reputation of the judicial system if it is allowed to linger on. I very much hope that this Bill will now receive its Third Reading and so put an end to this practice.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) has not shown what many of us would consider to be due gratitude to the Government for having helped the Bill through its stages. It seems to me very strange indeed that he should now call upon the Government to put themselves out still further to meet the wishes of certain hon. Members. I must say that I think, and I always have thought, that it was wrong for the Government themselves not to have taken a much more direct and active part in the proceedings on this Bill. Nevertheless, the fact remains that they gave a pledge earlier in the proceedings, when the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) first introduced the Bill. They have kept that pledge, and 813 I can see no reason now why it should be incumbent upon the right hon. Gentlemen to criticise them for not being over-helpful.
As I understand, throughout the debates we have had on the subject the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and those of his colleagues who have supported him have been concentrating on one particular thing. It is true that we have diverted at intervals, but the main thing about which they have been concerned is the principle of the State being in the position to inflict the death penalty. They have sought, by bringing this Bill before the House, to show that it is wrong in principle for the death penalty, or capital punishment, to be retained in a modern progressive State.
As I understand, they have put forward two main arguments to support their claim; first, that it is morally wrong for the State to have this power and, secondly, that it is a method of punishment which is both barbarous and out of date. It is claimed that all progressive States are now either anxious to adopt or have already adopted the system whereby there is no form of death penalty.
Within the last two days we have had evidence from a young and progressive State which thinks otherwise. Canada has recently taken a decision, on a vote, to retain the death penalty. No one could call Canada a barbarous State; no one could call Canada a State living in the past. Canada is a country known for its youth, for its vigour, for its forward looking, for its progressiveness. Yet Canada has thought fit, after careful consideration, to retain the death penalty.
Far from our making a forward step, far from our making progress by bringing in this Bill, I feel that we are taking a retrograde step. Many times during the course of this debate, we have heard references to the Old Testament, to "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." We have had references to the days when the death penalty was inflicted for all manner of crimes, no matter whether for murder or for petty larceny. It was claimed that we have progressed considerably since those days.
Of course we have progressed since those days. Now, however, we are about to take a step which will set back to a very great extent the progress we have made, for what was wrong in those days 814 when a man could be hanged for stealing somebody's pocket handkerchief as well as for committing murder was that there was no differentiation between types of crime, and no value of any kind was placed on human life. People could have been hanged for committing any small type of crime, not just for taking the life of another human being.
It is because I place—as I am certain all hon. Members must place—such a high value, such a special price, upon human life that I believe we are about to take a backward step, returning to just that same state of affairs where there is no marked or clear-cut differentiation between the criminal who has taken human life and the criminal who commits an ordinary offence. In fact, we shall before long, quite possibly, have a situation where a burglar enters a house and commits an ordinary theft, that offence being followed, perhaps in the same town the next day, by a murder, both of those offences being subject to sentences of terms of imprisonment, the one being merely an extension of the sentence passed for the other.
In my view, it is quite wrong that there should not be some clear-cut differentiation to set apart the crime of murder, the taking of human life, as something which the community as a whole condemns above all other crime. In the old days, as it is said, a man might as well have been hanged for killing a sheep as for a lamb. With the passing of this Bill, the situation will arise where a man may as well be sentenced to a term of imprisonment for killing a sheep as for stealing a lamb.
I consider that this is definitely a backward step that we are taking in reducing the value we should place on human life, and making no great differentiation between the crime of murder and any other ordinary crime.
I wonder how many of the right hon. and hon. Members who, throughout, have supported the passage of this Bill have really seriously considered themselves, or considered anyone else, as being in the position of someone who might conceivably commit a murder. For example, has the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne considered himself as being in the position of breaking into a house for the purposes of stealing 815 something? He is small and could get in quite easily. There is no doubt that he would now be persuaded to carry with him a weapon or arms of some kind, so that in case he were interrupted in his action he could remove the only witness to his crime.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I can assure the hon. Member that I have had impulses to murder in my time, but most of them have occurred within the walls of the House of Commons listening to a debate. By the ancient wisdom of the House of Commons, no doubt foreseeing such impulses, they have been dealt with as all these things ought to be dealt with, namely, by compelling us to leave our weapons outside. That is why there are still red tapes on the hooks where hon. Members hang their hats.
§ Mr. Eden
I think it is right that we should consider the effect of this Measure on the criminal. So far as I can gather from arguments put forward by those supporting the Bill, we have been considering whether it is right or wrong, morally, to continue to have the power to pass the death penalty in this country, I would ask them now to consider what effect passing this Bill will have on the criminals themselves. Have they taken the trouble, for example, to consult those most deeply concerned with criminals in this country? Have they sought any direct advice from police forces? It appears that they have not consulted the prison warders, whose duty it is to handle and to be closely connected with criminals and to understand the criminal mind.
We are not dealing with ordinary human beings. I am not concerned here with those who suddenly find themselves, in exceptional circumstances, committing such a crime. I am concerned with habitual criminals. It is the habitual criminal who goes about behaving in a brutal manner, the type of man who normally spends his life and earns his living by committing small crimes about whom I am concerned. That is the man whose whole upbringing and environment have been surrounded by a life of crime. Now, through the passing of this Bill, he will find it within his power to carry some form of weapon or armament, not to protect himself so much as to facilitate his 816 escape should he ever be apprehended in the course of committing a crime.
Before we agree to the Third Reading, we should consider very seriously the position of policemen. Recently, we have seen the results of gang warfare. Hon. Members, particularly hon. Members opposite, were only too anxious to ask the Home Secretary why the police cannot act to stop certain crimes. This is just an addition to the problems of the police. Their problems will be made very much worse by the passing of this Bill.
Policemen may henceforward constantly have to be prepared to tackle armed criminals. Hitherto, there has been in the underworld itself a very nice difference between the armed and unarmed criminal. The unarmed criminal would think very carefully indeed before he moved, so to speak, over the line and put himself into the category of the armed criminal. Now we remove a major deterrent to his doing so.
Hon. Members have said no one can prove that the death penalty is a deterrent, but I do not need any proof. It is not proof I wish to have. It is simply a matter of common sense and a little imagination. [HON. MEMBERS: "Emotion."] Hon. Members are so anxious to consider what they themselves are thinking and what goes on in their own minds that they have not given sufficient thought to what is likely to go on in the minds of criminals. Common sense and a little imagination will show that the passing of this Bill will definitely encourage the armed criminal, will definitely encourage any criminal to take steps to remove a witness, perhaps the only possible witness, of his crime, if he is seen in the course of committing It A valuable deterrent we have enjoyed as a safeguard and protection in this country hitherto is being removed.
I have here evidence of that which I got in this morning's post. It may be of interest to the House. I got it early this morning and I have not yet attempted to verify the facts. It is a letter from a constituent of mine, who works in an office in Bournemouth. She tells me that a man came into her office and said he was trying to trace his wife who had gone off with another man. What he wanted to know was whether, if he found his wife and murdered her, he would hang 817 for it. He said that he was quite prepared to "do 15 or 20 years for her," but in his own language as quoted to me here, he was not prepared to "swing" for her.
Some hon. Members think this is a cause for amusement, but I can assure them that there are millions of people in the country who do not think it is funny. There are millions of people who, whether emotional or not, dislike the fact that this Bill is going through the House, who do not think it is right that we should take this step in abuse of what we know to be the majority opinion in the country. We have not consulted the people's opinion on the matter in an Election. I should like to know whether any hon. Member opposite who votes for the Bill will say so before his constituents, and to know whether he gets a majority among them in support of his view. It is not a laughing matter. It is not a laughing matter for a harmless woman alone in her house. In my constituency there are many old people who live alone, and by this Bill we are increasing their danger. Hon. Members say that it is being emotional to talk like this. If it is emotional, then there are millions of people who are emotional. It is hardly wrong to represent their view, even if it is emotional to do so.
It is quite wrong that this Bill should go through. It is quite wrong to bring about a change of such a great degree in the law simply by means of a Private Member's Bill. I say this to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne in no derogatory sense.
§ Mr. Eden
It is quite wrong that this change should be carried out in this way. This change in the law, if it has to be made, should be made in another way.
I quite see that hon. Members are concerned to follow what they believe to be matters of conscience, what their consciences dictate.
I was very impressed by the speech of my very close hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson). I thought that it was extremely ably expressed, and, having had long discussions with him, I recognise that he has thought deeply about this 818 matter and that he spoke from his convictions, as he is entitled to do. But this is not solely a matter for individual consciences. It is not solely a matter for the consciences of hon. Members. It is a matter for the conscience of the people of the country, and we should have taken heed of that fact. Public opinion in this respect should have been heeded because this matter directly concerns the security and well-being of the public.
We have had advice from the Home Secretary, who has given his reasons for being against the Bill, and we have had speeches from those who have spoken from their consciences. I ask hon. Members who think of the consciences of the people of the country, and who recognise that they owe a duty to law and order in this land and have a responsibility in that direction to vote against the Third Reading.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Paton
It is very tempting to me to follow the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden) in his arguments, but I forbear for two reasons. First, because every argument that he has brought forward has been thrashed threadbare in the House over the last month or two and it would be tedious repetition on my part to go over them again. The second reason is that I do not believe that at this stage of the debate any argument put forward by anybody is in the least likely to change the opinion of any hon. Member.
I propose, therefore, not to pursue the general argument on the merits of the Bill but to address a few brief general observations to the House. First, like other hon. Members, I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) upon having arrived at this Third Reading stage of his Bill. He has pursued this matter, as everybody must agree, with great pertinacity, a high degree of skill and sound judgment. I think that everybody in the House, on both sides of this issue, will agree that he deserves the heartiest congratulations of the House on his very great Parliamentary achievement in bringing a Private Member's Bill on such an important issue to its Third Reading.
Tonight, we have moved forward a very considerable stage in a debate that has been going on continuously, not for 819 a few months or a few years, but for over 150 years. This issue of capital punishment for civil crimes in Great Britain has been a continual issue in British politics since before the beginning of the last century, and at least since the time when Sir Samuel Romilly was bringing his annual Bill to circumscribe the operation of the death penalty as it was then on the Statute Book. It has been the subject of repeated Royal Commissions and Select Committees over the years.
Of course, that continuous debate and discussion of this question is of the highest significance. It is a revelation of the depth of feeling which has always existed in this country over the generations about the nature of this dreadful penalty. There has always been a large section of our public opinion, not a majority but an important influential section of the citizens of this country, whose conscience was outraged by the continuance of this penalty. That is extremely significant, and it is a matter which was contested a short while ago by an hon. Gentleman opposite. There is no doubt, however, that this continual public objection on the part of an important number of our citizens is one of the great condemnations of the continuance of the penalty.
In recent times we have had reformers who have devoted their time to the formation of public opinion upon this matter. At this stage of the Bill, it is right that I should mention the name of one man who, above all others, was responsible for the formulation of the modern case for the abolition of the death penalty. We owe that modern case, which has had such a great effect upon the formation of public opinion in this country over the last 30 years to the late Roy Calvert, whose untimely death at an early age robbed this country of a man who was in the great line of our social reformers. If I may be permitted a personal reference, it was my great privilege on his death to take up his work and, for 12 years until I became a Member of this House, to lead the campaign in this country for the abolition of capital punishment, which has now been brought to the significant stage of the Third Reading of this Bill.
I hope that we are now in the final stages of that long discussion. I hope that 820 whatever happens in another place it will not destroy the Bill. I hope that the Bill will come back to us and that it will be put upon the Statute Book to end this dreadful penalty. I am sure that if we do it the example will be one which will have great effect throughout the world upon those nations which still continue the death penalty.
I am sure that although today Britain has lost some part of her physical pre-dominance in the world she is still great in world opinion because of her moral force and the character and traditions of her people. I am sure, therefore, that if we within the next week or two see this Bill placed upon the Statute Book, it will be a great example to other nations throughout the world, and may well bring the few remaining laggard nations into the general concourse which have abolished this penalty. I believe, too, that it will have an important effect upon the progress of our own penal reform in a general direction.
For all those reasons, therefore, I hope that tonight this Bill will be given an emphatic Third Reading because it is important that we should have as big a majority as possible, since that may have some influence in other quarters where the further stages of the Bill have to be proceeded with. So I heartily commend the Bill to the House, and I hope that hon. Members who have supported us so far will again rally round us in the Lobbies and see this Third Reading through.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Elliot
We are approaching the end of a long and keenly contested debate, of which perhaps the most interesting feature has been the speeches of the younger hon. Members, more particularly those on this side of the House. It is a striking example of the way in which the same set of facts will produce two separate opinions that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) find themselves on opposite sides although they are very near neighbours in the political field.
This shows that, contrary to the views of the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. J. Paton), the debate has not merely come to an end; the wider issues are, in fact, only now beginning to appear. 821 The most simple proof of that is that the Bill, if it receives a Third Reading tonight, goes to another place with a startling uncertainty at its very core—the question of the Armed Forces. We were advised by the best law opinion that we could get that the matter was still so doubtful that it ought to have been cleared up either in Committee or on Report. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) did not venture to table an Amendment to clarify the point.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would wish to be fair. The matter was raised in Committee. I said then that, with all humility, I felt, and was advised, that there was no doubt about the matter at all. I may be wrong, but that is my view. Consequently, there was no duty upon me to table an Amendment. It was, of course, completely open to any hon. Member who felt there was a doubt to table an Amendment and clear up the matter. That was done, and the case was argued with great force and clarity, and the House voted upon the matter.
§ Mr. Elliot
The result of all that was that we were left with the statement by a Law Officer of the Crown that there was no certainty at all about this vital matter. The hon. Member, obviously with every desire to produce a good and viable Bill, has not broached that fundamental matter, which, inevitably, will be broached during further consideration in another place.
§ Mr. Silverman
The right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to delay the House by telling him all the advice I got and where I went for it. I assure him that I got the best advice open to me and did not rely only on my own opinion. I am advised that, in spite of what the Attorney-General said, there is no doubt about the matter at all. If that is wrong, then other people may put it right.
§ Mr. Elliot
I can understand that the hon. Member has, naturally, sought the best possible advice. I have to seek the best advice I can, and, as a layman, I have to be advised by the Law Officers of the Crown advising the House when the Bill is committed to its judgment. I am left with the opinion from a Law Officer that there is no certainty upon this very important matter. However, that is only 822 one of the features upon which this wide debate is merely beginning.
One sympathises with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch. He said—it is true—that we should be very glad to get rid of this penalty and, indeed, other penalties. But I think that on many occasions the House has been debating not capital punishment but punishment. The revulsion which we all feel against the hangman's rope is only slightly greater than the revulsion that we feel against the warder's key. The indefinite imprisonment of young, healthy men is undoubtedly a grave moral issue for any of us. It is not merely reformative. Nobody could pretend that it is merely reformative. It is obviously a deterrent. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne believes in deterrents, as I shall prove, out of his own mouth, shortly.
To take one fundamental aspect, that of sex. Does anybody suggest that to take a young healthy man and deprive him of sex for 10, 15, or 20 years is going to improve him?
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Gentleman is being a little flippant in this matter, and at a very important moment. He himself believes in deterrents, if they are applied to people to whom he has an objection. I never heard his voice, nor the voice of any abolitionist, raised when it was a question of hanging the Nazi generals who had been guilty of atrocities in the war. Did he testify then on the moral ground? Did he vote against proposals that were then brought forward? I will take the hon. Member to cases where he had an opportunity of voting. Did he or any of his hon. or right hon. Friends vote against the strong and repeated action by the Labour Government in inflicting the death penalty upon those guilty of murders in West Africa and in the Gold Coast? Did he vote upon that?
§ Mr. Silverman
Since the right hon. Gentleman challenges me—although I think the point completely irrelevant in any case—I would point out that he was in the House at the time and sat on the Front Bench on this side. He surely remembers that when I sat in the corner 823 seat below the Gangway on the Government side of the House I repeatedly raised these questions. Indeed, I am glad to remember now that I was successful in saving at any rate three of those lives.
§ Mr. Elliot
Let me take the hon. Member closer to our own time. In the last few days we have debated the administration of justice in Kenya, where the death penalty, heaven knows, is one of the cardinal features. Did the hon. Gentleman vote against it?
§ Mr. Elliot
I listened to the whole of that debate. The abolitionist arguments, which have been pressed so strongly on the Floor of the House on this Bill, were certainly not pressed with anything like that vigour or strength when we were considering colonial administration.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again, but he is wrong again. Certainly I and many of my hon. and right hon. Friends have protested to the utmost against the orgy of massacre and murder committed in the name of law and order.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Gentleman and his Friends may have protested against imprisonment and sentences of imprisonment which were passed, but he neither now nor at any other stage has carried forward constructive protests for the abolition of the death penalty in the Territories for which we are responsible, such as he has made about the abolition of the death penalty here.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member is wildly at sea. He cannot believe that action taken on the Floor of this House will have repercussions far and wide throughout the world. If the suggestion is now made that we are sanctioning not merely the abolition of the death penalty here but its abolition in the Colonial Territories for which this country is responsible, the hon. Member will find that many of those who have gone a long way with him will part company with him in the further stages of this discussion.
It is impossible to confine the argument merely to this country and this Bill. The 824 hon. Member, and the nine or ten total abolitionists with whom he is associated, would wish to carry this the whole way. I am not now addressing my arguments primarily to him or to the nine or ten hon. Members to whom I have referred, but more closely and explicitly to other hon. Members, particularly on the Government side of the House, who have found themselves supporting the proposal for the total abolition of the death penalty here at home without fully realising where the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and his Friends would have them go on the wider issue.
If that issue had been put before this House, as it undoubtedly will have to be put when the Bill goes for consideration to another place, we might well have found that the decision on the Bill would have been different from what it is. I say without hesitation that these factors have to be taken into consideration when we are asking this House to come to a decision on this matter.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said earlier on that he had been upstairs listening to the Uganda delegation. I have also met the Uganda delegation and have listened to them, and certainly they expressed alarm at the prospect of the abolition of the death penalty here and its repercussions on their system of justice overseas. It is the same in regard to the West Coast. I have had the opportunity, with a number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from all sections of this House—
§ Mr. K. Robinson
On a point of order. Since the Bill deals solely with the abolition of the death penalty in the United Kingdom and this is the Third Reading, is the right hon. Gentleman in order?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) is arguing that what we do here may be an example or have some effect there. I do not know how relevant that is, but this Bill deals only with the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Elliot
We have asked the Law Officers to tell us whether the Bill deals solely with the United Kingdom or not, and they give dubious advice on that matter. From the advice of the Law Officers, we are told that it is a dubious matter whether the Bill is confined solely to the United Kingdom in its immediate incidence. In any case, in its 825 wider repercussions, it will certainly have effects going far beyond the United Kingdom.
There are many other hon. Members who wish to speak, and I do not wish to detain the House. But I want to say this. In Scotland, we have had the experience of a long period during which the death sentence was never inflicted at all. The revolting Dutch auction to which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne invited the House to address itself at an earlier stage, when he said with his advocate's skill, "How many people do you wish to hang to validate the principle—ten a year, nine a year, or how many?" does not apply in Scotland at all. We retained the power on the Statute Book, although for 17 years it was never necessary to apply it.
When the crime of murder began to increase, the death sentence was applied, and, although I would hesitate to pronounce upon it, Lord Cooper, who was at the head of our system of justice, attributed the diminution in crime directly to the fact that this weapon was still in the armoury, the provision was still on the Statute Book, so that they were able to inflict the death penalty and thus to bring that wave of crime to a close. I am not asking the House merely to believe me on this point. That was the considered opinion of Lord Cooper, whom we all remember in this House as a singularly fair and open-minded man, and one certainly with no bias in favour of cruelty or capital punishment of any kind.
For this House to say that we shall never again have the death penalty inflicted in this country, to my mind, makes it impossible for us to sanction the death penalty being inflicted in any of the territories over which we have control. If it is morally wrong here, it is morally wrong there. We abolished torture, because we believe that torture is morally wrong, and torture in our overseas territories is put down with the utmost rigour. I have myself been with a delegation to investigate the administration of justice in Kenya, and I have no hesitation in saying that we condemned brutalities because they would not have been tolerated in this country. How then can we successfully claim that it is wrong to hang a white man and right to hang a black man? There are very awkward and difficult questions which will arise on this matter, 826 and very ugly words which will be applied to those who attempt to maintain that proposal as a moral principle,
The moral principle, therefore, is not, in the opinion of most hon. Members, what we are concerned with here. We are dealing here with the question whether it is desirable or undesirable to retain this weapon in the armoury of the law. I say that the course of events both in the law of this country and in the law of the neighbouring country of Scotland does not justify the contention of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposed to us that this weapon ought to be removed immediately and for ever from the grasp of the law in this country.
I believe that it is wrong to do so here; that it is a perilous doctrine to introduce in territory overseas, and that the confusion and obscurity in which it will leave the position of the Armed Forces is highly dangerous. For all those reasons, I hope that, even yet, the House will not give a Third Reading to the Bill.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)
Like the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) I rise to oppose the Bill, but I hope that I shall be able to confine my remarks to its effect in Britain. I want to pay tribute to the Parliamentary skill and tenacity of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) in piloting the Bill through its various stages. I hope that during my remarks I shall not depart from the high standard of debate that has been characteristic of the whole proceedings upon the Bill.
I have listened to all the debates. I have not tried to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, either on 16th February, when we were discussing the Motion, or during the Second Reading debate. I have endeavoured to keep an open mind upon the matter and to see whether I would become convinced that I was wrong in believing that the death penalty was a deterrent to murder. I have heard no argument sufficient to convince me of that.
I have been in favour of the death penalty all my adult life; indeed, I remember debating the question with my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers) 25 years ago, in the West Willesden I.L.P. We 827 have always disagreed upon the matter. In fairness, however, I must say that one of the best speeches made on behalf of those who believe in abolition was that of my hon. Friend—and I use the term "Friend" in its wide and not merely Parliamentary sense.
I believe that this is a bad Bill, for a number of reasons. It makes no distinction among different types of murder—and I believe there are such distinctions. Nobody can tell me that a coolly and deliberately-planned poisoning does not warrant a greater punishment than a crime passionel. Yet the Bill makes no distinction at all. Hon. Members have attempted to deal with the question of the murder of warders and police in the execution of their duty, but no provision has been made for excluding that crime. No matter how foul the murder, those who commit it will escape the death penalty. That is wrong. I believe that the death penalty is a unique deterrent. The Home Secretary, in using that phrase, summed up the arguments of all those who believe in the retention of the death penalty.
I give two reasons for my point of view. There must be many cases where a criminal would carry arms and shoot his way out of trouble and kill if he thought that the penalty he would suffer if caught would be precisely the same as if he had not committed murder. I am equally convinced that if there was a witness to a crime committed by a criminal armed with a gun, that criminal would be sorely tempted to shoot the witness in order to remove the evidence. I believe, therefore, that these gangster types would certainly have a tendency to carry arms and commit murder in order to escape the rigours of the law.
The fact remains that in all the countries which have done away with the death penalty, with the exception of Norway, the police carry arms. At any rate, that is my information.
§ Mr. Hobson
I am open to correction, but so far as I have been able to find out, Norway is the only exception.
§ Mr. Silverman
We went into this matter with great care, and there is no country which changed its law on the arming of police according to whether 828 it retained or abolished the death penalty.
§ Mr. Hobson
That may be so, but the fact is that there are countries which have abolished the death penalty and where the police are armed. Obviously, they are armed for their own defence, and I suggest that if a crime were committed and the police knew that the criminal was armed, they would use their arms to defend themselves and would kill the criminal. Will it be argued that that is legal murder?
I firmly believe that there is a connection between the present tendency in Britain, the outbreak of gang warfare, and the decision of this House to accord a Second Reading to this Bill. I am convinced that the type of mind that thinks that imprisonment will be the only penalty for murder will resort to the use of arms more frequently. That is the type of person with which we have to deal, and, willy-nilly, we shall be forced to arm our police.
I believe that the public are over-whelmingly against this Bill and I am sure that they are right. There is not the slightest doubt that fear of the death penalty acts as a deterrent. That is why many of the organised gangs have engaged in their nefarious work without carrying arms. There will now be a temptation for them to carry arms. Having listened carefully to the debates on the subject, and having talked in a friendly manner with many of my hon. Friends who disagree with me, I see no reason to change my opinion. I conclude by saying this: the murderers could do away with hanging tomorrow.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I welcome the opportunity to say a few words during this Third Reading debate. I am quite prepared to face my constituents on this subject, and I have one of the smallest majorities of any hon. Member in this House. I think that my constituents are already aware of my views. I have taken a great deal of interest in the subject. I have visited a number of countries in Europe, and practically all of those where the death penalty has been abolished, and I have taken the opportunity to discuss this matter with those in charge of prisons who have murderers under their care.
829 Recently, I was a member of a delegation to Germany and I persuaded those arranging the programme of the delegation to change it, in order that I might have the opportunity of visiting prisons where there were prisoners who had committed murder. In Germany, they do not have capital punishment. Of all the countries I visited where capital punishment had been abolished only in one case were they considering reinstating it, and that country is waiting for a further period of years before doing so because they are not satisfied that sufficient time had been given to the experiment.
It is interesting to note that, on a free vote of the House, the majority of women Members of Parliament are in favour of the abolition of capital punishment. I hope that, as in the past we had people like Elizabeth Fry, who, against the wishes of many people, was able to carry out reforms in our prison system, so there will be others who will be equally successful regarding the abolition of capital punishment.
I am apprehensive of the attitude of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary who, with other retentionists, has created during this debate great anxiety among members of the general public about the likelihood of their being murdered. I suggest that the chances of being killed by other means than murder represent by far the greater threat to human life today. Figures were given by my hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) about accidents on the road. The murder rate by accident on the road was 465 last month. That is a far greater threat to human life than murder.
We have been told that the death penalty is a deterrent. We have had the death penalty throughout our history and we have not succeeded in cutting down the number of murders by any substantial extent. Those wishing to retain the penalty say that people may be deterred by the possibility, as the law stands, that they may be hanged. When a person commits a murder he knows perfectly well that there is a chance of getting off. I suggest that prevention is better than cure and that the greatest deterrent is the certainty of detection and the certainty of being convicted. The best way to ensure this in the present situation, with the 830 gangsters that we hear about, is to increase the strength of the police force, which is undermanned, and also to ensure that it is far better paid.
We are asked, as abolitionists, whether we really believe in life imprisonment. I am preferred to say that I agree with life imprisonment. I have seen people who have been in prison for as long as 28 years. They are made to work in prison. I saw one prisoner who was a cook. Not only did he support himself by his work in the prison, but also—and I think that this will appeal to those who say we never think of the victim—he contributed out of his earnings to the support of the relatives of the person whom he had murdered. That system is followed in several countries.
I should like to reply to the point that it is extremely cruel to keep young men in prison for a great number of years. I thought that one of our objects was to cut down the death rate by murder. If it is so very cruel to keep these people in prison, surely that is a far greater deterrent than hanging them.
Public opinion is changing, especially among the younger generation. Recent debates have been held at Oxford and Cambridge, where the abolitionists have carried the day. I myself had the pleasure of leading in a debate in Durham University, where, I am happy to say, we also won the day. I think that eventually we shall carry the opinion of the country with us. I should like to point out to hon. Members who think that the death penalty is such a great deterrent to murder that they have no hesitation themselves in living in, or going on holiday or on business to the very countries in Europe which have abolished the death penalty. Every country in Europe except France has abolished the penalty. Obviously, that proves my point.
I hope that, eventually, the Bill will become law. Then we may be able to turn our attention to where the danger to the general public really is, the danger of death on the road.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Sir R. Grimston
After these long debates, I think we are arriving at the time when the House wishes to come to a decision. For that reason, I do not propose to detain the House for very long, because I do not want to stand in 831 the way of the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude)) who is to follow me to wind up the debate.
The Bill will have a great many effects—far greater than many hon. Members have so far recognised. I will divide them into two classes—the imponderable effects and what I call the ponderable effects. About the latter, the direct deterrent of capital punishment to the professional criminal classes, I will not say much, except that the police opinion, which is unique, is that the death penalty is the greatest deterrent to the professional criminal. I think that the gang shooting which took place a few days ago in Kilburn is certainly a pointer to the fact that the police are right, for this reason: it is known that the death penalty is, at any rate suspended and is likely to be abolished. For all practical purposes at the moment the death penalty does not exist. For the first time in these gang warfares in London, we have had a shooting and not a razor slashing—and that is a pointer in the wind.
The imponderable effects of the Bill—and I assure the House that I will be very brief on this—are far more serious than the others. For that reason, I want to quote to the House a passage from the Royal Commission Report. Incidentally, I notice that as usual the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is carrying on a conversation while another hon. Member is speaking. The Royal Commission Report reads:We think it is reasonable to suppose that the deterrent force of capital punishment operates not only by affecting the conscious thoughts of individuals tempted to commit murder, but also by building up in the community, over a long period of time, a deep feeling of peculiar abhorrence for the crime of murder. 'The fact that men are hung for murder is one great reason why murder is considered so dreadful a crime'. This widely diffused effect on the moral consciousness of society is impossible to assess …The Bill will do one thing for certain: in the future it will be known that murder is no longer by itself regarded as the most abhorrent of crimes, because the unique penalty for murder will have been taken away, and there are many crimes in the Statute Book which carry as great a penalty as will in future be carried by the offence of murder.
Much has been said about public opinion on this issue, and if we were to 832 believe some people we should imagine that "Pity the poor murderer" is the prevalent public opinion. I do not think it is anything of the sort, but that has been the theme of a great deal of the propaganda and agitation which has gone on for the abolition of the death penalty. I am quite certain that that is not the public view and, indeed, is very contrary to the public view.
My own assessment of public opinion, for what it may be worth, is that the public want some amendment of capital punishment as it is now administered but that the majority feel that this Bill goes very much too far, because when it becomes law Parliament will have said that henceforward murder is not to be regarded as a particularly heinous crime. That is what Parliament is saying. I would regard that as a deplorable announcement at any time, but it is infinitely more so at a time such as this.
My right hon. and gallant Friend a short time ago drew attention to the effect that abolition will have abroad. Terrorism is rampant in Cyprus. He also drew attention to the feeling in some of the Colonies. It is quite idle to say that our passing a Bill to abolish the death penalty in this country has an effect only in this country. It will have a very much wider effect. It will say to the world at large that murder is no longer the worst of crimes and no longer stands in a class by itself.
I believe that to be a thoroughly retrograde step, but it is the only construction which the public can put upon the decision of this House. What will be said by one person to another is, "Murder is no longer as bad a crime as you thought it was." That will the message which will go out from this House when this Bill is passed, and in support of that assertion I remind the House of what I have just quoted from the Report of the Royal Commission.
At an earlier stage a supporter of the Bill said it would be a great day for Parliament when this Bill was passed. In view of the effects that it is likely to have in, as I say, raising the status of murder in the criminal code, it will be not a great day but a very sorry day for Parliament. I oppose the Bill, and I hope that even at this late hour—although I suppose that these things are almost impossible—some in this House may change their minds.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Maude
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston), I have no doubt whatever that after the very long and far-ranging debates which the House and its Committee have had on the Bill the House is ready to come to a decision. Therefore, I shall not seek to detain the House, but I do not believe that any hon. Member who supports this Bill would wish the vote on Third Reading to be taken without an answer having been given to some of the final observations of the opponents of the Bill. We have had many of the arguments on principle—arguments appropriate to a Second Reading debate—and I do not propose to go over them all again, but there are one or two points to which, I think, an answer is desirable.
Before I deal with those points, I should, first, like to say a very brief personal word, if the House will allow me. It is particularly difficult for me to have to take a line diametrically opposed to that of a number of my hon. Friends with whom, on most issues, I have been accustomed to think alike. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury will agree that those with whom I normally think most alike are those from whom I diverge most sharply on this Bill.
That emphasises what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has said; that the Bill has cut absolutely sharply across party divisions. It has come down almost between friend and friend in this House. This is sad in many ways, but in others it is impressive, because it calls attention to and underlines the extraordinary importance of the issue, and the very deep feeling which hon. Members on both sides, both supporters and opponents of the Bill, attach to the subject.
This is a vitally important issue. It is, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) said, a moral issue. It is a question not only of what is expedient, but of what is right. He said, quite rightly, that very few of us can be absolutely sure that what we recommend is right; but how much less then can we be sure that what we recommend as expedient will prove to be correct? It is difficult enough to argue the moral issues in this Bill, but when we come to the issue of expediency, whether it is right 834 to retain the death penalty in the hope of saving the lives of some people who might be murdered, with a total absence of statistical or other proof on either side which can be convincing to anybody, how can anyone be sure that the decision he comes to is right?
I am, as I say, in disagreement with a number of my hon. Friends. Yet I do not think they will find, on reflection, that I am a particularly emotional type in matters of this kind. I am not conscious of having come to my decision upon any emotional grounds at all. Indeed, I would say that my instincts and my upbringing predispose me to believe in capital punishment as an accepted means of preserving the life of the citizen. It was only last year, when I really began to think about this thing very seriously and deeply, that I came to the conclusion that I could no longer intellectually and honestly support the continuance of this punishment. I believe that there are many of my hon. Friends who are in the same position.
I do not hope, at this time of night, that I can, by rational argument, certainly not by any emotional appeal, which I do not propose to attempt, convince any or more than a very few opponents of the Bill that they ought to change their minds. All I want to do is to try, very briefly, to mitigate some of the impressions which may have been left by the speeches made by the opponents of the Bill.
First, there has been an attempt to alarm hon. Members and members of the public by the suggestion that an immediate increase in the number of murders and an outbreak of gang warfare not merely will take place but is already taking place. This argument really cannot be sustained. There was a Parliamentary Question yesterday, to which reference was made, the Answer to which indicated the number of murders which have taken place since the Second Reading of the Bill compared with the number in previous years. The number this year is not only lower than in any year but one since 1952, but it is also appreciably below the average for that period. I do not think that we can go, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury, into the details of a particular murder which is still sub judice with any hope of getting any argument which is of any use to anyone.
835 Apart from that, the arguments have all through this matter turned really on two things only. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary said that many people, himself included, believe that capital punishment is a unique deterrent to murder. That is one argument. The other is the argument is that the police and prison warders will not be safe if those already undergoing long terms of imprisonment cannot be sentenced to death if they commit a second murder.
We have had this over and over again. I do beg hon. Members to believe that the argument about an armed police cannot, as the Royal Commission showed, be sustained; it really does not prove anything either way at all. In countries which have abolished capital punishment and where the police are armed, they were invariably armed before the abolition of capital punishment. I can only say, having recently come back from the United States, that in passing from an abolitionist to a retentionist State, in no case did I notice a difference in the weight of armament of the police as between one and another; they remained virtually identical.
As to the question of capital punishment being a unique deterrent, how can we tell? I frankly do not believe that any hon. Member who has views on this is really susceptible to argument about it. On both sides we know that we cannot prove the thing statistically. One hon. Member says, "I know that if I were tempted to commit a murder the fear of death would prevent me from doing it." Another hon. Member says that there is no evidence to show that people are deterred. Murders take place at the rate of about 12 a month in this country on an average. Even with the death penalty and the risk of being hanged—only one in 12 is hanged—how is the murderer to know that he will not be hanged? Yet murders take place.
Others say, and have said it at various stages of this Bill, "But even if the death penalty saves one life, one person from being murdered, it is well worth retaining it." That is an argument I find very difficult, as a Christian, to sustain, the idea that it is worth while, good and right to hang 12 people a year in order to save one life.
§ Dame Florence Horsbrugh (Manchester, Moss Side)
Would my hon. Friend also take into consideration whether it is worth while to save one man or woman from becoming a murderer?
§ Mr. Maude
The mistake into which my right hon. Friend falls is to believe that it is worth while, that it is ethically justifiable, justifiable on any religious or moral grounds, to put to death 12 people among whom, for all we know, may be one who is innocent—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not want to make anything of this. It may well be that no innocent person has ever been hanged, but no hon. Member can lay his hand on his heart and say that for certain.
§ Mr. Maude
I really must not give way again.
I do not try to say that an innocent man has been hanged, but no hon. Member can say that he has not. While the risk exists to say that one is justified in saving one life, or one soul by destroying 12 lives in a year really does not seem to me to be sane. As to the question of what we should do with the murderer if we do not hang him, I think that a very odd argument. It is to suggest that one should kill a man, that one should forgo the chance of saving a soul and destroy a body because of the inconvenience of keeping him in a prison cell.
I do not think that my right hon. and gallant Friend is even supported by the evidence of his own Department before the Royal Commission. I am not going to read it, but if hon. Members will look at the evidence in paragraph 653 onwards they will find that the Prison Commissioners and the Home Office took the view that conditions had improved so much that there was no reason to suppose that one could not tolerate occasional long and very long sentences if need be.
All these are arguments we have had before and I do not propose to add to them. My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) said that she believed public opinion is changing and that she has reason to believe that young people are changing their minds. I not only believe that to be true, but I think that it can be demonstrated if, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne did, we look on this House of Commons as a cross-section of the people.
837 If one looks at the results of debates and Divisions on this subject over the last few years one finds that the change in the majority here has been due—this is patent to anyone who looks around and looks at the Divisions—to the infusion of younger members of the Conservative Party into this House, a large proportion of whom have turned out to be supporters of the abolition of capital punishment.
I should like to say at once that I have not received a single letter from any constituent protesting against my stand on this issue, but I am aware that if I went back to my constituency the older of my supporters would be against me on this and my young Conservatives would be, by a majority, in favour. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."] I am speaking about my own experience. It is perfectly plain in this House, certainly among the younger people who are coming in, that the mood is changing. Hon. Members will simply have to realise the fact that, if this is what has happened, no matter what party wins the next General Election
§ capital punishment will be abolished, because the trend is inevitable.
§ I am in favour, and I think that this is what the people of the country want, of being a little in advance of public opinion, of giving a lead to public opinion, not of slavishly following what we believe, perhaps wrongly, to be the wishes of our constituents. We have argued this and debated this, examined it from every side and have given it the most careful and conscientious thought. This reform is bound to come and I think that the majority of the House has shown quite clearly that it would like it to come now.
§ Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 152, Noes. 133.839
|Division No. 250.]||AYES||[10.32 p.m.|
|Albu, A. H.||Forman, J. C.||McInnes, J.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Garner-Evans, E. H.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Gibson, C. W.||Maddan, Martin|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Greenwood, Anthony||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Hale, Leslie||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Mason, Roy|
|Baird, J.||Hannan, W.||Mathew, R.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Maude, Angus|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.)||Hastings, S.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Hayman, F. H.||Moyle, A.|
|Benson, G.||Healey, Denis||Mulley, F. W.|
|Beswick, F.||Herbison, Miss M.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)|
|Blackburn, F.||Holman, P.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Holmes, Horace||Oram, A. E.|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Holt, A. F.||Orbach, M.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester S. W.)||Hornby, R. P.||Oswald, T.|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Padley, W. E.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Hubbard, T. F.||Paget, R. T.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Parker, J.|
|Chapman, W. D.||Hunter, A. E.||Paton, John|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Peart, T. F.|
|Clunie, J.||Irving, S. (Dartford)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Popplewell, E.|
|Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury)||Janner, B.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Pryde, D. J.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jeger, George (Goole)||Ramsden, J. E.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St.Pncs, S.)||Randall, H. E.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Joseph, Sir Keith||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Deer, G.||Kenyon, C.||Royle, C.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Kershaw, J. A.||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Dodds, N. N.||King, Dr. H. M.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Lawson, G. M.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Lindgren, G. S.||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Swingler, S. T.|
|Evans, Edward (Lowostoft)||MacColl, J. E.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Fernyhough, E.||McGhee, H. G.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|McGovern, J.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)||Wheeldon, W. E.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Thornton, E.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Viant, S. P.||Wigg, George||Zilliacus, K.|
|Vickers, Miss J. H.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Wade, D. W.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Weitzman, D.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)||Mr. K. Robinson and Mr. Kirk.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Nairn, D. L. S.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Neave, Airey|
|Arbuthnot, John||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd)||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Barber, Anthony||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Orr-Ewing Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)|
|Barter, John||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Osborne, C.|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Page, R. G.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Partridge, E.|
|Black, C. W.||Hobson, G. R.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Hope, Lord John||Profumo, J. D.|
|Bryan, P.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Hudson, Sir Austen (Lewisham, N.)||Redmayne, M.|
|Channon, H.||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Cole, Norman||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Schofield, Lt.-Col, W.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Kimball, M.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Cunningham, Knox||Leavey, J. A.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Deedes, W. F.||Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R.(Croydon, S.)|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||McKibbin, A. J.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Fell, A.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Fisher, Nigel||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Freeth, D. K.||Manningham-Buller, R. Hon. Sir R.||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Glover, D.||Marples, A. E.||Whitelaw, W. S. I. (Penrith & Border)|
|Godber, J. B.||Mawby, R. L.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Gough, C. F. H.||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Grant, W. (Woodside)||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Moore, Sir Thomas||Woollam, John Victor|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Nabarro, G. D. N.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Sir C. Taylor and Mr. Dance.|
Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.