§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Perhaps this subject is not one which would be chosen for one's first speech in the House as Home Secretary, apart from interventions during the Committee stage discussions. But, by a coincidence, my first speech as Leader of the House was made in a debate on capital punishment almost exactly a year ago. In this intervention, which will not be a long one, I must, according to the rules of order, adhere to the contents of the Bill. Therefore, I cannot go over past history. But it is apposite to say that many of the subjects to which I devoted my attention in that speech a year ago are now included in the Measure which is before us.
The Government have given much thought and time to this Bill, aided by Tight hon. and hon. Members of the House. It attempts to solve the problem in a manner likely to be acceptable to both Houses of Parliament. We have come today to the end of the last stage in our long discussions in this House. I have come into these debates at a late stage and much of the heat and burden of the day has been endured by others. I should like, therefore, to pay tribute particularly to my predecessor, Major Lloyd-George, who devoted a great deal of time and attention to the preparation of the Bill and to its presentation to the House and in Committee.
I should like also to say a word of thanks to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who took a conspicuous part during the Committee stage discussions; to my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who has been involved, and to the draftsmen, who had a difficult subject to tackle.
Capital punishment is a subject on which hon. Members on both sides of the House have held very strong opinions in the past and hold them now; some as a matter of conscience, some as a 455 matter of intellectual conviction, and some from a combination of both. We have heard those views expressed strongly, and often movingly. During this controversy we have seen from the leading opponents of this Bill a sustained effort—to use a neutral term—and a display of parliamentary skill and pertinacity to which I, as an old parliamentary hand, cannot but pay tribute.
To the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) I would say in a Latin tag in the eighteenth century tradition, and which certainly should not be forgotten in the annals of this modern Parliament."Justum et tenacem propositi virum."I have chosen that because I think it represents the tenacious and firm manner in which the hon. Gentleman has pursued his own proposition, and also because the Latin tag, when translated, is almost exactly the same as the English, and, therefore, not very difficult to understand. It is, none the less, a sincere tribute to the efforts of the hon. Gentleman as a parliamentarian to pursue the cause in which he believed.
To the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) I would recommend a period of writing detective fiction. His description, in Committee, of the efforts to murder Mike Malloy was immortal, and I am sorry not to see him in his place today, so that he could hear this tribute.
Whilst adhering strictly to the rules of order, Sir, a Third Reading debate gives us an opportunity to stand back a little from the Bill, and to consider it as a contribution to the solution of a haunting problem, that is, the appropriate punishment for unlawful killing. The Bill as it finally appears before the House on its Third Reading deals with two questions which lie at the root of the problem: what should constitute murder and how should murder be punished?
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, in his Bill, which he introduced last Session, propounded an answer to one of these questions, namely, that murder should never be punished by the death penalty. His Bill did not provide a complete answer to the first question, namely, what should constitute murder itself? Whatever may be the merits of the past story of this matter—which it is 456 not in order for me to discuss today—I must state simply that Her Majesty's Government considered it their duty, where the basic responsibility of the Executive—namely, the maintenance of law and order—was involved, and where, on such a fundamental matter, opinion in this House, in Parliament and in the country was plainly divided, to put forward a solution of our own. This we have done in this Bill and, looking at the words of the Amendment tabled by the Opposition, I can see no constitutional impropriety in an action of this sort, nor, despite the controversy, has our right been challenged, I believe.
We believe that this Bill while preserving what we consider essential, will go far to meet those who think that the law as it stands no longer gives the right, or even a tolerable answer to the question: what should be the punishment for homicide? We have sought our solution by tackling both of the questions I have just mentioned. The first question is: what homicides should amount to the supreme crime of murder? The second question is: how should murder be punished? The Bill, therefore, makes two kinds of change. It changes the law as to the ingredients of murder so that some homicides which have hitherto been murder will not be murder in future; it changes the law as to the punishment of murder so that some of the homicides which will still be murder will not be punishable by death. That is the general purpose of the Measure.
Part I of the Bill drew the attention of some hon. Members, in Committee, to points of drafting and detail but I believe, as appears in the Opposition Amendment, that there is general support for what it set out to do. It will be remembered that the Bill deals with what is known as the doctrine of constructive malice; that is, under this doctrine, a man may be found guilty of murder, although he did not intend to kill or to do grievous bodily harm, merely because the killing was done in the course or furtherance of another offence.
This doctrine has long been a target for criticism by lawyers and laymen, and distinguished and experienced judges have been amongst the advocates of its abolition. Therefore, in dealing with that matter, I think that we have made progress in this Bill. Similarly, there has 457 been uneasiness, in comment, in the courts and elsewhere, about the refusal of the law to allow provocation by words alone, to reduce murder to manslaughter save in the most extreme and exceptional circumstances. The Bill sweeps away the doctrine of constructive malice and enlarges the defence of provocation.
Part I of the Bill further reduces the number of people who will in future be convicted of murder by introducing a defence which, south of the Border, is wholly new. We are sometimes a little sceptical when our Scottish colleagues expound the superior merits of their system of law, but in the doctrine of diminished responsibility, at any rate, they have something which the Government believe is valuable, and which we have sought to appropriate with suitable adaptations for use in England and Wales. We think that the new defence provided in Clause 2 will enable the courts to take account of the great strides that have been made in the understanding of the human mind, and to avoid treating as murder killings for which the accused ought not to be held wholly responsible.
This is all part of the new approach to the problems of the mind which I think will exercise us, both at the Home Office and in this House, in the coming months and years. This unexplored territory of the mind will be perhaps one of the most exciting of the adventures before the human intellect in the years to come, and it is as important in our relationships in the human sphere as nuclear development is in the scientific. I hope that I may have the support of the House in any further moves we may make in this direction in the humanising and understanding of relationships, whether in crime or in the other spheres for which I am responsible.
Finally, Part I takes out the category of murder another class of case on which the law has fallen behind public opinion, and that is the pathetic case of the survivor of a genuine suicide pact. Such a person will in future be guilty of manslaughter and not of murder. By these means, which, I believe, commend themselves in principle to the majority of hon. Members, Part I of the Bill reduces fairly considerably the scope and range of the crime of murder.
Part II is necessarily more controvercial. I do not think that any solution 458 put forward by the Government would have satisfied the critics on both sides of the House or the enlightened and singularly interested and moving opinion which one has experienced throughout the country. However, we believe that the Bill, whatever may be said of its imperfections when examined from the point of view of the abolitionist or retentionist, does go a long way to meet the one without sacrificing what appears to be essential to the other. In fact, the Bill accepts abolition, save in relation to certain limited classes of case, that is, those where murder strikes most plainly at the maintenance of law and order.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have made some play with the fact that any murder is an offence against law and order, that is, a breach of the Queen's peace. The point is an obvious one and I can concede at once that the proposition is true, but the conclusion which the critics seek to draw from it, namely, that if the maintenance of law and order is the baths of the Bill, no distinction can be drawn between one kind of murder and another, is plainly not true.
Which is the greater menace to the maintenance of peaceful and ordered society: the criminal who, in following his lawless pursuits is prepared to kill, or the man who, in sudden passion, for example, kills an unfaithful wife and perhaps gives himself up to the police? There is an obvious distinction, which I could elaborate in many another human case. It is on that sort of distinction that Part II of the Bill is based. I do not suggest, and nobody who has followed our debates could possibly suggest it, that it has been easy to draw the line. Some of my hon. Friends, I know, think that the capital cases are too circumscribed, but we have endeavoured to retain capital punishment only where we consider it to be essential as a deterrent against the lawlessness which strikes at the ordinary basis of society and where we consider its deterrent power to be uniquely effective.
We believe that the Bill demonstrates the proper and necessary concern of Parliament and the Executive to show that offences which strike at the basis of ordered society should meet with a punishment which serves both to mark their gravity and to deter others from committing them. We believe that it gives the protection which society owes to those who, on behalf of the community, deal 459 with reckless and dangerous criminals; that is, prison officers and the police, men whose gallantry in the discharge of their duty is so habitual that we are in danger of taking it too much for granted.
We believe—I believe this after studying all the debates of 1948 and before that—that the Bill does these things without falling into the pitfalls which lie in the way of any attempt to classify murder by reference to the moral heinousness of particular offences. It has been suggested that, in consequence, the Bill has no moral basis at all, but that is not so. This is not the time or place to embark on a philosophical discussion of the moral justification for punishment, but if society is justified in taking life at all for its own protection, and we believe that it is, then it is justified, and, indeed, meritorious, if it takes a relatively narrow view of what its protection requires and spares murderers whose crimes fall outside that sphere notwithstanding that those who are spared are sometimes morally indistinguishable from those who are not. Hon. Members may say that that is not justice, a point which, had we time, it would be interesting indefinitely to discuss. I merely remark now that I know of no moral law which requires society to pursue justice to the exclusion of mercy, or forbids it to show more mercy than the recipient deserves.
The Bill does not affect, and could not unless it were expressly so enacted, the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of mercy. I cannot say in advance what the decision is likely to be in any particular case. I can only take this opportunity of saying what my general policy is and will be. My predecessor said in the House after the debate on 16th February last yearEach case will be considered on its merits, regard being had to the special considerations relating to that case and all relevant considerations of either a public or private nature."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 581.]I shall continue to follow that policy.
I cannot say in what form the Bill will come from another place, but I believe that we in this House are entitled to be congratulated on sending to another place a workmanlike Bill which commands a wide measure of support. The House has dealt with the Bill in a manner which has demonstrated the respect which hon. 460 Members on both sides have for the best traditions of the House. Hon. Members have, in fact, dealt with the Bill in such a way that we have been able to avoid those more difficult and acute forms of procedure of which we have already had experience this week and which would be singularly inappropriate in this case. We have, in fact, been able to discuss the Bill freely, and, although it may be said that some of the speeches have been protracted, they have at all times been sincere contributions to our debates.
I should not like the House to take leave of the Bill without just making one more mention by way of a tribute to the labours of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment. It is true that we have accepted some of the Royal Commission's recommendations, and some we have not; but the value of its work lies not in the number of recommendations which have been implemented but in the fact that it gave us the material for informed discussion on this great problem. No one who has listened to the debates during the past year could fail to be struck by the constant references which have been made to the Report of the Royal Commission, and no one who has applied his mind to the problem of capital punishment can fail to be grateful to the Royal Commission for assembling in such a masterly manner the mass of material necessary for our proper consideration.
In asking the House to accept the Bill, I do not suggest that it is a perfect solution of the problem which confronted us. Few problems of government are capable of a perfect solution. The Bill, by its nature, cannot be acceptable to everybody, and that will become apparent even during the course of this debate, but it is an honest attempt on the part of the Government to discharge what we believe to be our duty to Parliament and to the country, and, as such, I commend it to the House.
Perhaps I might close with some words of Dr. Johnson. He said:Law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public.While right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite may differ from us, they will at least I hope realise that in a very difficult task we have tried to make the best contribution that we can.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
The right hon. Gentleman had the advantage, as he put it, of coming late to these discussions. I think I can speak for the whole House in saying that we welcome his addition to the, unfortunately, very small number of us who have been taking part in the discussions on the Bill, and, also, the rather more cheerful atmosphere that he has introduced into our debates. I hope that the Home Secretary will not misunderstand me, or think that I imply any disrespect, when I say that at this stage I doubt very much whether there is anything that any of us can usefully add to the lengthy discussions which we have already had.
I do not think that any of us are very proud of the Bill. I doubt very much whether the Home Secretary himself is commending to the House today the sort of Bill he would really have liked to bring before us. If he was proud of the Bill, if he was perfectly happy about it, there would not have been any need on the Government side to put on the Whips or any need to commit the unpardonable sin of making hon. Members opposite vote against their conscience on a matter of this kind. If he had wanted to, the right hon. Gentleman could have gone down in history as a good Home Secretary and a great penal reformer, but he has preferred to be immortalised as a great party manager.
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken very approvingly of the Bill. It has, of course, a number of extremely useful features, which were welcomed from this side of the House on Second Reading. I should like particularly to welcome the reference which the right hon. Gentleman made to what he called "the unexplored territory of the mind". If we can have further discussions in the House on the relationship of mental health and crime, it will be most valuable, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find an occasion for providing us with an opportunity of that kind.
The features of the Bill which we all welcome are the acceptance of the doctrine of diminished responsibility; the removal of many homicides from the scope of the death sentence; the amendment of the law relating to provocation; and the reforms in the administration of 462 capital punishment. All those amendments to the law are admirable. That is why we did not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. At that time we had hoped that it might be possible to amend the Bill in Committee, but from our point of view the Committee stage was a very disappointing experience.
We tabled many Amendments and many new Clauses, practically all of which sought to apply the recommendations of the Royal Commission—and I would join with the Home Secretary in once again paying tribute to the labours of that distinguished body. Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that we constantly urged upon the Home Secretary the recommendations of the Royal Commission, not one concession was made by the Government in Committee. At one moment right hon. Gentlemen opposite were asking us to reject Amendments because the Report of the Commission upon which they were based was not a unanimous recommendation; the next moment they were urging us to reject Amendments in spite of the fact that they were based upon unanimous recommendations of the Commission. At various stages during the discussions it seemed to us that the Government were prepared to make a mockery of our debates to avoid the necessity for more than a formal Report stage.
If the Government had been more accommodating and open to argument in Committee I should certainly have tried to use what little influence I have to persuade my colleagues—all of whom, unlike hon. Members opposite, were free agents in this matter—to give the Bill a Third Reading without opposition. But the Home Secretary's Departmental desires overcame his sense of responsibility as Leader of the House. The fact that the Government were so uncompromising in Committee has left no other course open to my hon. Friends than to table the reasoned Amendment which appears on the Order Paper.
We have now reached the Third Reading of the Bill. It seems to me that, whatever intrinsic merits it may have, there are two considerations which over-ride all others. The first is that the Government must play fair with the House of Commons. When they promised facilities for the passage of the Silverman Bill, that 463 promise should have been kept and the freely expressed view of the House respected. But by this Bill, and by the extraordinary display of oratory by the benches opposite last Friday, the Government have clearly sought to circumvent the operation of the Parliament Act.
With all modesty, I would remind the House of what I said during the Second Reading debate:I should have thought that if the Government really wanted to honour to the full the undertakings which they gave to the House in the last Session, the proper course would have been for them to have adopted the Private Member's Bill themselves, to have introduced it to the House, to have sought to amend it if they really thought it necessary to do so and, if they failed to amend it, send it forward to another place under the Parliament Act. It is a breach of faith with the House that that has not been done. As it is, it is now possible that the House of Commons may not have an opportunity of giving another free and unfettered decision on what is a most important problem."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1162.]That is the way that things have worked out. The Government disregarded the view we put to them on that occasion, and the overall result has been that what should have been a great Measure of penal reform has become merely part of a party maneouvre by hon. Members opposite in an attempt to extricate the Government from one of their many embarrassments.
The second consideration that I would urge upon the House is that it is the duty of the Government, and especially of the Home Secretary and the Law Officers, to maintain and foster public respect for the law. In this Bill they are failing badly to discharge that obligation. They are trying to do what has been attempted over and over again, and what has been rejected over and over again, ever since 1864, namely, to classify murders upon one basis or another.
The Royal Commission recommended against the practicability of classification of that kind. On 16th February last year, Major Lloyd-George told us that the Government agreed that neither the definition of murder nor an attempt to distinguish between different degrees of murder offered a useful line of approach. That was when the Government were trying to stem the rising tide of abolitionist feeling. But when they failed to do so they fell back upon the exact 464 remedy that they had previously rejected, What has happened is that in an endeavour to protect the interests of the Conservative Party the Government have been prepared to make an ass of the law.
The right hon. Gentleman sought once again to justify the classification of murder that the Government have proposed. In paragraph 498 of its Report the Royal Commission said:There are strong reasons for believing that it must inevitably be found impracticable to define a class of murders in which alone the Infliction of the death penalty is appropriate.The Royal Commission was right and the Government, as I believe, are so wrong.
Under the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman commended to us this afternoon the Government will continue to hang the Ruth Ellises, but they will not hang the Patrick Mahons. If anyone stabs a fireman he will not hang, but if he stabs a policeman he will. If he strangles a night watchman in the course of theft he will hang, but if he strangles an eight-year-old girl in the course of rape he will not hang. If he shoots his wife he will hang but if, on the other hand, he kills her by slow and systematic poisoning, he will not.
When we discussed Clause 7 I gave many examples of the way in which this extraordinary proposal would work. I do not want to repeat all those examples, but I should like to paraphrase two cases given in Appendix 4 of the Commission's Report. The first relates to a woman who ran a nursing home who persuaded one of the patients to make a will in her favour and then poisoned her with morphia. In the words of the Commission:It was a deliberate murder for the purpose of gain.The other case concerned an unemployed labourer who caused the death of a child of eight or nine by asphyxiation due to severe pressure on her chest in the act of raping her, or attempting to rape her. Both those cases would escape under the Government's proposals.
The public will want to know more about this, and I think that when they have questioned their representatives in this House they will come to the conclusion that they prefer the point of view of those of us who want to get rid of hanging altogether rather than create the inequity caused by this rather unpleasant 465 compromise. Many hon. Members opposite who, a few months ago, were so loud in demanding that hanging must be retained, may be asked by their constituents how they justify the fact that we are to hang people for murdering policemen but not for murdering children or poisoning their wives.
I hope that many hon. Members opposite who have taken such an active part in blocking the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Come (Mr. S. Silverman) will be called upon to answer that question and to tell their constituents how they justify the extraordinary attitude which they are now adopting. Even supposing that there were a logical basis for the proposals contained in the Bill we should still be retaining something which many of us believe to be intrinsically evil.
The Home Secretary spoke about what he called the moral basis of punishment. I should say that there are three purposes behind punishment. First, there is the purpose of retribution, which is surely wholly alien even to a nominally Christian country like ours. It is certainly something which was rejected by so distinguished a Home Secretary as Lord Waverley, who said:There is no longer in our regard of the criminal law any recognition of such primitive conceptions as atonement and retribution.The second purpose surely is the purpose of reform. The reformative effect of capital punishment is non-existent unless one believes in the efficacy of death-bed repentance or in the possibility of reformation in after-life. I think that point was adequately dealt with by the late Archbishop Temple, when he said:It is only on the hypothesis of a future life that the death penalty can be regarded as reformation at all; and it is doubtful whether many of those who incur it have a sufficiently vivid faith in a future life to accept the sentence of death as a temporary discipline.The third purpose surely is the purpose of deterrence. We would say that there is no evidence whatever that capital punishment is an effective deterrent for murder. Yet we had the Home Secretary, this afternoon, still referring to it as the unique deterrent. It is not at all clear to many of us in this House why the Government have decided that the fear of hanging deters a man from stabbing a policeman but not from stabbing his wife. 466 If it is a deterrent, which we deny, then it ought to apply to all murderers, regardless of the murder. Unlike the Government, who appear only to want to deter murderers of policemen and prison workers, we want to deter all killing.
This is something in which one has to have some consistency. I welcome the remarks which the Home Secretary made about the policy which he intends to pursue in advising on the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. I think that that will have made the position a good deal clearer. There is at the moment a widespread view that this Bill is really the Government's method of introducing the abolition of the death penalty by rather back-stage methods. I hope that it means that there will be no more hanging, but I would have preferred us to have abolished hanging, if this is in the Government's mind, by doing it openly and broadly and not in a way which is really calculated to deceive the public. If it means only a reduction in the number of hangings, then we shall still be perpetuating a horror which many of us feel to be intolerable.
I want hon. Members opposite, when they have to declare their vote in the House tonight, to remember what it is they are voting to retain. I want to remind the House of a description by Mr. Arthur Koestler of the hours preceding an execution. He writes:The horror of the operation remains even if there is no struggle or dementedness in the condemned cell. The preparations on the previous day when executioner and assistant discreetly take the measure and weight of the victim to determine the length of the drop; the dress rehearsal of dropping a stuffed sack of the same weight to make sure that the estimated length of rope will neither strangle the victim too slowly nor tear his head off; the jolly domino game in the condemned cell while the preparations go on and the hour draws nearer; the stratagems to make him sit with his back to the door through which the executioner will enter; the brisk, businesslike opening of that door, the pinioning of the hands behind the back and the walking or dragging him in solemn procession to the execution shed and on to the white chalk mark on the trap; the tying of his legs while two officers stand at his sides on planks thrown across the trap, to hold him up; the fixing of the white cap and the noose with its sliding brass ring—in a few years' time, when Lord Goddard and Mr. Pierrepoint have, with God's help, been defeated, all this will appear as unthinkable as drawing, quartering, and pressing to death appear to us today.467 The same point of view was put in a much less emotional way by Lord Templewood who, after a great deal of experience, came to this conclusion:However carefully the death penalty is inflicted, a State execution is a repulsive proceeding. Capital punishment is objectionable because, first, contrary to the modern developments of penal reform, it abandons the possibility of reforming the murderer, secondly, being irrevocable, it gives no opportunity for reversing a wrong sentence, thirdly, it places a hateful duty on all who take part in an execution, and, fourthly, it lowers the moral standard of the whole community.I believe—and I say this very sadly indeed—that the House has lost a great opportunity in this respect. This is not a penal reform Bill; it is a Tory Party preservation Bill. It has been described in the Press as "A poisoner's charter". It is more than that. It is also a political coward's charter. For purely party ends the Government are prepared to make the law of this country ridiculous.
The end of capital punishment is bound to come. This House has the record that almost always, in the early stages, it is opposed to reform. At some stage, all the great liberal and humane reforms for which finally it has been responsible have been voted down in the House. Our predecessors voted against the abolition of burning of women, they voted against the freeing of slaves, they voted against the emancipation of the Catholics, and they voted against the extension of the franchise. All these reforms are now numbered among our greatest social achievements.
Of course, the ending of capital punishment will come. There is not the slightest doubt about that. The credit could have gone to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and his colleagues, but in the eyes of history the credit for the abolition of capital punishment will go to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne and those of his colleagues who, in spite of the fact that they were deserted and betrayed by hon. Members opposite, continued to fight for the things in which they believed.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I take it that the hon. Gentleman is not moving the Amendment?
§ Mr. Greenwood indicated assent.468
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Sir Fergus Graham (Darlington)
In rising to speak very briefly, may I say that I was expecting to answer a reasoned Amendment. I realised that this was an opportunity at least to express how strongly I have felt throughout all the debates, not only in sympathy for those who regard the death penalty with horror and loathing, but also with a very real understanding of the enormous variety of unsocial elements that exist in the world in which we live—a world, in particular, where the number of people who come to this country, and who enjoy the benefits of our civilisation, increases as the years go by.
I feel very strongly that it is a presumption to place the conscience of the individual, the outlook of the individual, against the outlook and the conscience of the State—the State to which we bow when we bow to the Mace, as an amalgam of history binding the Church and the law, the Crown and the Government, and which owes to the people the memory that Parliament really exists for defence—defence against aggression from outside and defence against internal disorder. There are those elements which are bound to resent and revolt against internal order sometime, and I feel wholeheartedly—but more than I can express—with a vast number of people in this country a terrible sympathy for the relatives of a victim of murder.
If it be true that the community needs a Parliament, its first requirement is defence and its second requirement is internal order. Our civilisation has succeeded to such an extent that we have reduced the number of those in our midst who are murderers, the number of those for whom we have not been able to have any hope of curing in any way, yet the necessity of holding justice must surely remain. Mercy is depicted in the Houses of Parliament. Behind the Throne is a statue of the young Queen Victoria, and by her side is the statue of Mercy, armed to the teeth.
If there is not a gallows, we shall remove the ultimate penalty which, at some point, must be applicable to the ultimate fault. If we are really suggesting that the ultimate penalty is to be removed, then we are suggesting that this country can no longer feel that its responsibility 469 is enough for all the variety of crime which a vast and ever changing population may have to face.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House, while welcoming the removal of certain anomalies in the law of murder and the abolition of the death penalty in respect of certain offences, cannot assent to a Bill which is an affront to constitutional propriety, fails to satisfy the public sense of justice and is in defiance of the principle which this House has already approved, namely, that the death penalty for murder no longer accords with the needs or the true interests of a civilised society.The hon. Member for Darlington (Sir F. Graham) will not expect me at this time of day to embark upon an elaborate refutation of the thesis which he shortly, but lucidly and eloquently, defended. The thesis was that capital punishment ought as a principle to be retained. It is a view which the hon. Member is quite entitled to hold, quite entitled to express, and which is, no doubt, shared still by a large number of people both inside and outside the House.
I will not trouble the hon. Member now with any examination of the thesis, or any attempted refutation of it, because the House of Commons long ago decided that it does not agree with him, and the Government themselves, as was plain from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, have also indicated that they do not agree with him. The hon. Member's remedy, his right and, I should have thought, his duty, in view of what he has said, would be to go into the Lobby against the Government's Bill, because the Bill is in complete contradiction to almost everything he said.
It would, of course, be singularly ungracious if I were not at once to acknowledge the altogether too generous things said about my own part in this controversy, said by both the Home Secretary and by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). My hon. Friend said that if capital punishment were ever abolished in this country, it would be due to me. I amend that, with his leave, to saying that now that capital punishment has in fact been abolished in this country, it is an over-generous exaggeration of my own 470 part in it to attribute the change to me. A change has been effected by a whole generation, and even more than a generation, of people who concerned themselves with this matter at times when it was not so prominently in the public mind as it now is.
One thinks of a number of names, and I do not want to delay the House by reciting any of them except one. If there is one to whom more than another this credit for the change in the law should go—posthumously, unfortunately—it is Roy Calvert, whose book, "Capital Punishment in the Twentieth Century", answered years before they were uttered every argument employed in favour of the retention of capital punishment in the House from 1948 onwards and in the right hon. Gentleman's speech just now.
It is, of course, perfectly true, and I hope that my Amendment sufficiently acknowledges it, that the Bill effects very important improvements in our law. In addition to the very gracious place in the politics of his party and, indeed, of the country, the right hon. Gentleman has acquired a special reputation for his philosophic acceptance of whatever happens at any moment to be the best available substitute for what he would have preferred. It has, of course, become a part of what one might call modern political folk lore, and the form of expression which the right hon. Gentleman gives to it has almost passed into proverbial acceptance.
One understands very well why the right hon. Gentleman should wish us to accept the Measure which the Government have placed before us: it is the best abolition of capital punishment that we have got. Why should we not be content with it? It is true, as I said a moment ago, that capital punishment in this country for all practical purposes has already been abolished. Why, then, should we bother not to accept it in the best available form, even though the best available form is not exactly what we would have preferred and not exactly what the House would have preferred? I am old-fashioned enough to think that democracy does not really do itself the best justice by doing one thing while pretending to do another. It is not the way to sustain the authority of a representative, democratic Parliamentary system in a world in which that kind of institution is under such powerful attack.
471 It is much better that the House of Commons should make up its mind what it wants, as indeed the House of Commons has made up its mind, and then honestly, courageously, fairly, without ambiguity, without modification and without qualification of any kind, to do what it believes to be right. I am perfectly certain that the Home Secretary, if he did not regard himself as inhibited by all sorts of party considerations, as my hon. Friend has said, would be advising the House not to give a Third Reading to the Bill, but to give a Third Reading to the Bill which the House accepted last year.
It may be asked, if one concedes that the Bill makes so many improvements, why seek to defeat them, why not have these amendments in the law which can be achieved only by the passing of this Bill? Undoubtedly the Bill does a great deal. The whole of Parts I and III would have received an enthusiastic acceptance by the House of Commons if they had stood alone.
At this point I should like to refer to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the draftsmen. I do not want to attack or criticise in any way the Parliamentary draftsmen who are responsible for the drafting of the Bill. They were given by the Government a task which the Government, at the moment when they asked them to do it, said was an impossible task. They asked the draftsmen to do just those things which the Royal Commission had told them could not be done, those things which the Home Secretary of the day had said could not be done, and which the right hon. Gentleman himself had confessed could not be done.
As to those Parts of the Bill which could really be put into effect, I think the Committee stage showed that there is considerable doubt, difficulty and ambiguity about the way in which they have been drafted. If the Bill is not amended in another place—speaking now of Parts I and III—the courts will have the utmost difficulty in giving any lucid application to the principles of some of the Clauses. I do not know what they will make of the Clause intended to effect the abolition of constructive malice. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) demonstrated to conviction, the Clause as drafted meant 472 absolutely nothing whatever. There is no doubt that time after time during the Committee stage Government spokesmen were conceding that the wording was not clear and might lead to a great deal of doubt and difficulty in the courts, and might even lead to defeating the intentions which the House of Commons unanimously supported. Nevertheless, for other reasons which have nothing whatever to do with the merits of the controversy, they were bound, or felt themselves bound, not to accept any Amendment at all or even promise to review any of the words.
Even when one comes to Part II one finds, in Clause 7, that the principle of the abolition of the death penalty is conceded and then whittled away by a series of exceptions. It is no part of our responsibility that these two matters, which have nothing whatever to do with one another, are covered by one Act. The abolition of the death penalty has nothing directly to do with any question of alteration or removal of anomalies in the law of murder, and, of course, it ought to have been dealt with quite separately.
Why was it not? My hon. Friend has, of course, given the reason already. This is the ground of the first reason offered in the Amendment for rejecting the Third Reading. The right hon. Gentleman said that he could find no constitutional impropriety. Here is a Bill that no Member of the House of Commons wants. Those who want to see the death penalty abolished do not want it, for reasons which do not need stating again. Those who think that the death penalty is, in a unique sense, a deterrent against the commission of the crime of murder do not want the Bill because it removes—in the assessment of the last Home Secretary—that deterrent from 80 per cent. of those crimes which up to now have been visited with the death penalty. Those who thought that there might possibly, in some way or other, yet be found some rational ground on which one could classify murders into those which are rightly capital and those which are not, will not be satisfied and will not want the Bill because, as my hon. Friend has so lucidly and unanswerably demonstrated, there is no rational ground upon which the exceptions proposed by the Government can be sustained.
473 Does the right hon. Gentleman really see no constitutional impropriety in compelling the House of Commons—for that is what he is doing—in a matter of this kind to pass a Measure which, as he perfectly well knows, not a single right hon. Gentleman or hon. Gentleman in the House really wants? Is there no constitutional impropriety about that? Is there no constitutional impropriety in the Government's behaviour in the matter?
What did the Government do? The right hon. Gentleman today has made the most persuasive speech for a partial retention of the death penalty that anyone has ever made during my membership of this House. He did it almost as though he believed it. At any rate, he did it lucidly and persuasively, and he advanced it to the House, with all the authority of the Government, on the basis of the argument that it was the Government's duty to find this kind of compromise, if they could, and, with all their authority as a Government, to ask the House to adopt it.
That might have been all very well in February, 1956, or a year or two before that. If, when the Royal Commission had presented its Report, the Government of the day had said, "This is a matter on which the Government must decide and on which the Government not merely are entitled but have a duty to call upon their supporters to help them," that would, of course, have been a view which would have been clearly maintainable, and no doubt the Government would have had their way. But they did not do that any more than any previous Government did it during the past twenty or twenty-five years. They said, as every other Government said, "This is not a matter on which the Government would seek to dragoon anybody; this is a matter which it is right to leave to the conscientious, independent, uninfluenced judgment of every Member."
The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say at one and the same time that this is and that this is not a matter in which the Government ought to give a lead to the House of Commons, and expect the House to pass the Bill. If it is, they ought to have done it long ago, and if it is not they ought not to be doing it today.
What the Government, in fact, did was to invite the House to reach its own con- 474 clusion, with an undertaking to accept that conclusion, and when the conclusion was different from what they hoped they broke their undertaking. They are now seeking to compel right hon. Gentlemen as well as hon. Gentlemen on the Government side of the House to vote against their consciences in support of a Bill which they have already declared they believe to be wrong. I should have thought that was a constitutional impropriety.
I have said that the Bill is not wanted by any Member of this House. I believe that to be true. One of the considerations which the Government have always claimed have influenced them in not carrying out their undertaking to accept the clear decision of the House was that total abolition of the death penalty was too far in advance of or too far out of accord with public opinion outside. I do not stop to argue whether they were right or wrong about that, but I assume, for the sake of the argument, that they were right.
They said, "We ought not to pass the Bill because, rightly or wrongly, the vast majority of the public believe that the death penalty ought to be retained for two reasons, one that it is in a special sense a deterrent to the commission of murder and therefore affords to the public a sense of security which, without it, the public would not have, and, secondly, because the public sense of justice would be outraged if the heaviest penalty which society has power to inflict were not exacted from criminals for whom plainly there is little or nothing to be said." They said further, "If we persist in legislating so far out of accord with popular opinion we shall be running the risk that lynch law will be substituted for the operation of the judicial code."
Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that public opinion will accept Part II of the Bill as being just? Are members of the public who think that the death penalty ought to be exacted for murder because it is a just retribution going to be satisfied with a Bill that says, "If you poison your wife you are all right, but if you shoot her you shall be hanged," and "If you commit murder in the course of robbing a gas meter you shall be hanged, but if you commit murder in 475 the course of rape you shall not be hanged"?
I do not want to go through the series again because one of my hon. Friends has already done it, other hon. Members have heard it, and the public have read about it. Is it supposed that the members of the public who are not satisfied about abolition of the death penalty because that would not be just are ready to accept discrimination in the infliction of the death penalty on the basis set out in Part II? I do not believe that any rational person can say so, or that the Government believe it. They do not believe it. They cannot. It is not a tenable proposition. Do the Government believe that the public will accept the view that a wife poisoner cannot be deterred by the death penalty, but that a man seeking to avoid arrest after what might be some quite petty crime can be so deterred? It just does not make sense.
There is the clearest possible demonstration of how right the right hon. Gentleman was in our debates last year when he said that there was no rational basis on which to distinguish between murders which are capital and murders which are not. If this needed further demonstration we should be grateful to the Government for having demonstrated it in Part II beyond further argument.
No one in the House of Commons wants the Bill. It is clear, if we relate the contents of the Bill to the argument used last year, that the public does not want the Bill and that the Government have made singularly little effort to inform the public of what the Government are doing.
Can it be supposed that there is somebody in the other place who will find this Measure unacceptable, as it is unacceptable to us and, I think, unacceptable to the public? I have recently reread the debates in the other place of 1948 and of last Session. One reads the speeches of Lord Salisbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Samuel. One goes back to 1948 and reads the speech of the present Lord Chief Justice, who was Lord Chief Justice then about the propriety of hanging murderers of one kind and not hanging murderers of another kind. Is there any evidence that the Lord Chief Justice has changed his mind about that?
476 At this stage it might not be unreasonable to ask the Home Secretary what his attitude to the Bill will be if it comes back to us from another place with Amendments designed to deal with the patent anomalies in logic and in justice which the Bill contains Will he then wish us to enter upon a long-drawn-out exchange with the House of Lords in order to compel them to do what is demonstrably unmaintainable and irrational? Would it not be better for the House of Commons to be allowed to have its way, as it is entitled to under the Parliament Act? If we are to have a conflict with the House of Lords, why go on repeating the conflict? Why drag it out and carry it on from Session to Session?
The Parliament Act was designed to avoid a constitutional catastrophe of that kind and to ensure, if there was a difference of view between the two Houses, that after an adequate attempt had been made and an adequate delay had occurred in order to make clear and to try to reconcile the points of view of the two Houses, and if the points of view remained irreconcilable, there was to be an end of further constitutional conflict.
The House of Commons is entitled to have its way, but the Government refused to allow the House of Commons to consider the matter again at all. It may very well be that, if time had been found for the introduction of last year's Bill again, the House of Commons in its wisdom and discretion might have decided not to persist on it, and might have decided to introduce the amendments or exceptions that are contained in Part II. The House would have been perfectly entitled to do so. On the other hand, the House of Commons might have decided that the reasons which persuaded it not to do that last Session were still valid this Session, and there would have been no further possibility of a conflict with the House of Lords because the Parliament Act would have concluded the matter.
Under this Bill, the Parliament Act does not conclude the matter. We are starting again at the beginning. Let us suppose that it happens, as it may well happen, that the House of Lords introduces exceptions which the right hon. Gentleman is bound, by the bargain that he made, not to accept. What will he then do? Come back in the next Session, 477 assuming that the Government are still here, and introduce it again, have another conflict or not have another conflict, force it through under the Parliament Act? Does the right hon. Gentleman begin to see what I mean by this phrase in the reasoned Amendment about constitutional impropriety? For no valid reasons, he is prolonging a constitutional conflict that is entirely unnecessary in order to compel the House of Commons, as well as the Lords of Lords, to do what neither House believes to be right.
I think there is an explanation of all this. I see some hon. Members opposite whom, for the purpose of this discussion at any rate, I may be entitled to call my hon. Friends, although I know that they are not my hon. Friends on any other political subject in the world. On this matter, I hope I have without presumption paid tribute to their manful courage and consistency against what I believe to be very heavy pressure, not so much in the House as outside, during the course of our discussions here. I cannot believe that they have deserted, not me, as one of my hon. Friends said, but their own ideals and convictions.
They know, I feel sure, things that the rest of us do not know. I believe that their silence throughout these debates, their absence from the Division Lobbies during the Committee stage, their absence from the Division Lobbies tonight, because I anticipate that they will not be there, is not due at all to any change of mind, to any failure of courage or to any lack of political consistency. They know they have won. Each and every one of them has had private assurances—I am certain of that—assurances that the Government will not allow the House of Lords or anybody else to alter one jot or tittle of the bargain that has been made.
And more assurances than that—assurances that, in fact, the last execution which took place in this country, the execution in August, 1955, was indeed the last execution for murder that will ever take place in this country. I think that if they had not had such assurances, or if they do not believe in their hearts that that is true, they certainly would not have failed to maintain with the same courage and the same vigour as they did last Session the view which I know they still hold.
478 Is it worth while, I ask the Government, to do this kind of violence to people's consciences? In order to do what? In order, I say, not to have any executions at all, because I do not believe that there will be any more, but in order to retain the façade. What façade? On an average, the annual number of executions in this country for, I think, more than half a century has been twelve. The last Home Secretary, I think in the course of the Second Reading debate, though I am not sure whether it was then or during one of the debates during the Committee stage, estimated that if the Government have their way and this Bill becomes law, and if all the people who could be executed under it are in fact executed, the twelve will be reduced by 70 or 80 per cent.
So that the Government will retain under the Bill the right to execute, what shall we say, 2.35 people every year? Is it really worth while to do all this violence to our constitutional principles, to do all this damage to Parliamentary representative democracy, in order to retain the right to execute two and a bit people every year, and then not to do it?
One begins to understand a little the Suez adventure, which was incomprehensible to many of us at the time. But for that, the Government would never have got my hon. Friends on the other side of the House to support them, but they could not have a row about Suez and another about hanging at the same time. The same kind of argument might be applied to the Rent Bill. It would enable the Government to compel their rebellious followers to accept this Bill and all the rest. It is a much more rational reason than any suggested by anybody else. It might make it almost intelligible.
In fact, we have seen the end of this obscene futility, as I have called it. The condemned cell will be deserted. The morbid, ghoulish death watch for weeks, including three Sundays, is wound up. No more notices outside the prison gates. No more big crowds assembling on execution mornings. No more hammering in the building of the gallows, and no little procession such as one of my hon. Friends described from Arthur Koestler's moving book. It is a pity that the Government did not allow it decent burial. In fact, if one were to adapt to the circumstances with which we are really faced 479 here, the well-known poem of Swinburne and apply what he said about death in that poem to the death penalty, one might say:As a god self-slain on his own strange altar, Death lies dead.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)
I beg to second the Amendment.
As always when my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) speaks, he is so eloquent, so comprehensible and so persuasive that there is little else to say. However, I second the Amendment not only because of the contents of the Bill, but as a protest about the way the Government have treated this House by flouting its freely expressed will. It is now just under a year since the then Home Secretary moved a Motion in this House in the following terms:That this House is of opinion that, while the death penalty should be retained, the law relating to the crime of murder should be amended.My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) moved an Amendment which said that we believed:… that the death penalty for murder no longer accords with the needs or the true interests of a civilised society, and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce forthwith legislation for its abolition or for its suspension for an experimental period.The Amendment was carried, but the Bill to which we are asked to give a Third Reading today is in accord with the Motion which was defeated, and not with the Amendment which was passed. After that debate the Prime Minister announced that special facilities would be given for a Bill to be introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. With a free vote of the House, without the Whips on, that Bill went through all stages, Committee stage, Report stage and Third Reading. As we all know, it was rejected in another place, and the Government have not given any opportunity whatever for the House of Commons to reaffirm its opinion.
The Bill we have before us today is a Bill which has been pushed through with the Government Whips on, on a matter on which there should be a free vote of the House according to individual conscience and not according to party politics. I hope that hon. Members will 480 note that in this Government Bill are all the exceptions which were turned down during the Committee stage of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne.
I was moderately fortunate in drawing No. 8 in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills and decided to reintroduce the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend. I decided to reintroduce that Bill, not only because I wholeheartedly believe in its contents, but because I think that this House should have an opportunity of reasserting its will in this matter. Last Friday the House could have considered the matter, but, because of the extraordinary exhibition of hon. Members on the other side of the House, that Bill was not even reached. The Government have a majority of nearly 70 in the House of Commons. One would have thought that if they were so sure of their case they would have allowed my Bill to have been voted upon in order to show that they had a majority in this matter, but they did everything possible to prevent that. I have reason to believe that it was not only back benchers who were concerned but that, as anyone who heard him would realise, the Minister on the Front Bench on Friday was also involved in the tactics which were employed.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
My hon. Friend will remember that Mr. Speaker rebuked the hon. Gentleman for the length of his exordium.
§ Miss Bacon
Yes. Not only did Mr. Speaker rebuke him, but he did not rise to reply to the debate until after three o'clock, which is a most unusual procedure on a Friday afternoon.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
The hon. Member will remember that there were only 163 hon. Members in the House at the time.
§ Miss Bacon
The hon. Member is quite wrong in assuming that there were only 163 hon. Members in this House at three o'clock, when we moved, "That the Question be now put." Several hon. Members went home and it was at four o'clock—after it was quite certain that my Bill was not to be debated—that 163 hon. Members were present.
I ask the Government why they were afraid to let my Bill go to a vote. Was it because this was a Private Member's 481 Bill and without the Whips on they were afraid that the House would again assert its opinion on this matter? We have a Bill before us today which, as all the debates on it have shown, is complicated, ambiguous, unfair and in some cases, I suggest, even silly. I wish to reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne said about another place. This Bill can go to another place and can be changed there. If my Bill had been read a Second time last Friday the Parliament Act would have been put into operation and that Bill could have been passed whether the other place agreed with it or not.
During the passage of this Bill we have been told that the effect will be that the number of convictions for murder will be reduced from about 25 to six and the number of executions will be reduced from 13 to four. As my hon. Friend said, it seems rather ludicrous to keep in operation all the paraphernalia of executions for that small number.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
Does my hon. Friend realise that in Scotland the position will be even more ridiculous? The system will have to be kept in operation for one execution in three years. Those are the figures for Scotland.
§ Miss Bacon
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that interjection. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), has given examples, of the way in which the Bill will work. Someone could be hanged for shooting, but not for poisoning. I am quite certain that as time goes by members of the public will not really understand the motives of the Government in introducing such a Bill. There is a letter from a member of the public in today's Yorkshire Post. That letter says:Is there not likely to be an outcry from the public on every occasion a murderer is convicted of a particularly heinous crime and escapes the gallows, while another murderer (whose crime does not repel the public quite so much) is hanged? This would be a most undesirable state of affairs, but who can doubt it will happen? Can we not hear the arguments already?The letter ends by saying that, rather than have such a Bill, it would have been better not to have had a Bill at all.
It has been argued time and again by some people who are in favour of the 482 retention of the death penalty that it acts as a deterrent, but we have to take note of the fact that since last August, when the last execution took place—
§ Miss Bacon
—August, 1955, when the last execution took place—in fact the opposite has been the case. There have been fewer murders rather than more murders. A great deal has been said about public opinion. It has been said that the Government must keep in line with public opinion. I have had not a great many but a number of letters since I decided to introduce my Private Member's Bill, and I must say that the letters which I have received from the public are not so much on the question of deterrence as on the question of vengeance—a life for a life. I think that if we were to take note of public opinion in this matter we should have to take note of it in that way.
The Government have rejected this and have based their case on what they call public safety. They have said that we must try to deter the man who attempts to commit a theft and is armed while doing it, but I believe that much the better way than hanging a man who indulges in armed robbery is to impose a much greater penalty on a man who is found in possession of arms. That would be a much better method than hoping that the Bill will be a deterrent.
I should like to ask right hon. and hon. Members opposite, is hanging to continue or is hanging to be abolished? In talking to some hon. Members opposite who agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne when he introduced his original Bill, I have had the impression that they believe that the last execution has taken place. It almost leads one to believe that the Government have in some way assured them privately that that is so. If it is so, I think we ought to know, because the Government seem either to be deceiving some of their followers in this matter or deceiving the country. The House ought to know the truth.
There is no need for me to say more, because this subject has been debated time and time again, but I believe that instead of this Bill we should have a new and clear Bill which gives us total abolition. Not only would the House of Commons 483 be reasserting its will in passing such a Bill, but we should be taking a further step towards making this a civilised country.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
As a number of hon. Members have reminded the House, it is a little under a year since this part of the controversy first started. In the course of that twelve months, the House of Commons has probably spent more time on abolition than on almost any other subject—even more than on Suez; yet, although I have very strong and definite views on this problem, this is the first time I have addressed the House upon it. That is something of an advantage in a controversy where, inevitably, not a few people have had to eat their words. It is pleasant not to have any words to have to eat.
The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) pointed out that nothing new could be said on this occasion. He is absolutely right. Indeed. I think that when the debate first started a year ago, nothing new could then be said. All the facts and arguments were known, everybody knew them and nearly everybody's mind was then made up.
I do not intend to make yet another speech on the rights and wrongs of this very difficult problem, nor shall I try to justify any action which I may have taken or any action which I may have failed to take in the Division Lobbies in the course of this controversy. Qui s'excuse, s'accuse is probably the best motto for a politician, and it is one to which I intend to adhere rigidly on this occasion.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to abolish capital punishment. I should like to see abolition brought about in this country now. I will be frank on the subject: I would much rather that it did not have to be brought about through legislation, for I should have liked to see a wise and humane Home Secretary—there have been many, but none quite as wise and humane as I should have liked—who was prepared to do it through executive action. He would not have been able to say that he was doing it, as the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) pointed out to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) when the latter was Home Secretary, but it has been 484 done in other countries. Belgium is the prime example of a country where the death penalty has never been officially abolished, and yet there has not been an execution for a hundred years.
That, however, was not the attitude which the Government took on this occasion, nor was it the attitude which past Governments have taken on past occasions; and we have to take the situation as we find it today. The Government have produced this Bill. In many ways, it is a good Bill. The first part of it, I think, is excellent; it brings in reforms which I have wanted to see, as have many others. A very big step is taken along the road towards total abolition. That is something of which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) would very much approve; although he would deny it, he is the only begetter of this Bill.
We have advanced a very long way—75 per cent. of the way, I think it has been calculated, even on the basis that the Home Secretary is to proceed as former Home Secretaries have proceeded in the past, reprieving a certain number and hanging a certain number more. In view of the comment by the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), I should say that I personally have received no assurances that there will be no further executions, although I very much hope that that will be the case.
We have a Bill which is full of anomalies and of illogicalities and a Bill which quite clearly has not brought and could not bring this controversy to an end. Anyone who imagines that the last word has been said in the House or anywhere else on abolition is fooling himself. Certainly mine has not been said. Nevertheless, it is probably a good thing that after a year's intense debate and discussion there should be a breathing space of some kind to enable us to see exactly where we have reached.
The argument has been used, and possibly it is a fair argument, that at this stage public opinion is not in line with total abolition. I think that may be true. I also think that if the Government's attitude had been different, that would not have mattered all that much, although there is a danger—one can see it—of the House getting too much out of 485 step with public opinion in matters of this kind.
The only advantage which I can see in the Bill and the only reason I intend to vote for it is that progressive abolition of this kind gives us a better chance of bringing public opinion with us than does straight-out abolition. I do not say that that is a very strong argument, but I hope that that will be the development of the case. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who comes to his office with a great reputation as a reformer, will take note of the point which was made by the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East—that in the fifteen months or so since the last execution took place in this country the number of murders known to the police has declined, as indeed, I think it is fair to say, most of us who believe in abolition thought it would. I hope the Government will draw the requisite conclusion from that fact and that no executions will take place under the Bill. I do not know whether that will be the case or not, but I hope so.
To my mind, it is a considerable step forward that we have reached the Third Reading of a Bill which at least three-quarters abolishes the death penalty. It is not the Bill which I should have liked to see. I shall vote for it with considerable reluctance. But because it is such a great advance, I feel that we can congratulate, not the Government, but the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne on his achievement in the House today.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. George Benson (Chesterfield)
I am afraid that I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), who said that it would have been better to have proceeded by having a wise Home Secretary who would have reprieved everybody. To begin with, one has to have a wise Home Secretary and, after that, a continued series of wise Home Secretaries. I think that that is asking too much of this House on such a serious matter.
The present Home Secretary—I shall not discuss his wisdom—said that the death penalty had been retained where it was uniquely effective. Such a statement as that is based on faith, not on evidence. There is not a shred of evidence, as every hon. Member who has studied the subject knows, to show that the presence or 486 absence of this penalty has the slightest effect on the homicide rate. It is not a matter of evidence that divides this House now. It is an emotional attitude. That is why we have very little hope of getting agreement at the present time. Argument has very little effect upon deep emotional reactions, except over a very considerable period of time.
I am by no means satisfied with the Bill, but I am satisfied with the progress that we have made in the last nine years. We failed to abolish capital punishment when we carried an Amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, very much against the wishes of the then Government. It was not the House of Lords that divided us then; it was the weakness of the Government, the division in the Government over this penalty.
In 1949, we had the appointment of the Royal Commission, but that Commission, by its terms of reference, was excluded from considering the real crux of the problem—abolition. When we look at the attitude of that Labour Government we realise the difference in the present attitude of this one, as represented by this Bill, and I think we are perfectly entitled to be satisfied with the progress that has been made in the interval.
This Measure does not give us all that we want. There have been various estimates of how much it does give us. Figures of 70 per cent. and 80 per cent have been mentioned, but the figure depends, to some extent, on the attitude of this Home Secretary and his successors. I do not think that any Home Secretary could cut down the legal hangings by three-quarters without using the Prerogative much more freely than it has been used in the past. It is probable that a reduction by five-sixths or nine-tenths will result.
The Bill really retains little more than a symbolical gallows, and everyone knows that it is only a matter of time before the death penalty is abolished. Even if the hopes of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that the Home Secretary will reprieve everyone in future are not fulfilled, the death penalty will be abolished as soon as there is a political change. Everyone knows that. The position of the Home Secretary is rather an undignified one. He has had forced on him the undignified 487 rôle of Mrs. Partington and, as in the case of Mrs. Partington, inevitably the Atlantic will roll up.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Commander Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
The Third Reading of this Bill is not the occasion to be tempted, even were it possible, to deploy long arguments in favour of retention or abolition of the death penalty. The House and the country have heard a very great deal about this in the last year, and when we part with this Measure, as we shall do today, and it goes to another place, both the House and the country will be fully aware of the views of hon. Members.
I cannot help carrying my memory back to 1948–49, when the House of Commons on a free vote did, in fact, vote for complete abolition. I was one of those who then voted for abolition. Neither can I forget what was the sequel to the events of those two years. The Government of the day which, so far as the conduct of the Home Office is concerned, was, of course, in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), did not, so far as I am aware, make any attempt to follow up what the House of Commons had done. There was a temporary suspending of the death penalty, but after that the situation reverted to precisely what it had been before.
Today the Government, a different Government, are accused by hon. Members opposite of having flouted the will of the House of Commons. I am bound to say that if they have been wrong this time to flout the view of this House on a free vote, the Labour Government previously set a very bad example.
I am inclined to doubt the wisdom of ever having submitted such a vital point in the administration of law and order to a free vote of the House at all. Looking back over the years, I believe that the question of what shall be the supreme penalty for the most serious crime—except treason—that can be committed is the inescapable responsibility of the Government, and cannot be left to the decision of individual Members of Parliament, irrespective of whether or not they support the party charged with the responsibility of governing the country.
488 I know that it is common practice to say that the retention or abolition of the death penalty involves a matter of conscience. I do not deny that, but what I do deny is that the invoking of conscience is peculiar to the subject of the abolition or retention of the death penalty. Surely, the conscience of every hon. Member of this House is constantly invoked when he is considering his attitude to any Bill or Measure that may be brought forward. It is, therefore, an entirely false presentation of the position to say that the death penalty peculiarly contains the element of conscience.
What is involved here in no way resembles that respect for conscience with regard to the taking of life which is recognised by the State in the provision that is made for a man to obtain complete exemption from military service if the tribunal set up to deal with such matters believes that he has a real, conscientious objection to the taking of life. That kind of respect for conscience, when considering this question, is quite falsely applied when brought into the arena of our deliberations here.
I will not weary the House with anything like a personal oration as to what has caused me to change my view in the meantime. I might observe that it has taken a long time and, of course, I was returned as a Member to sit in this House only in 1955, after a fairly substantial interval; and it was indeed some time after it had been decided by the Government that a free vote should be given on a Motion as to whether the House was in favour of the abolition of the death penalty or against it.
I have no hesitation in saying that I believe the Government got off to a wrong start. They should have considered at the outset what their responsibilities as the Administration were, and they should then have taken what they believed to be the right course, just as they must with regard to any other Bill which they submit for the consideration of the House.
There is an over-riding question to which there can be only one answer when the evidence is taken into account. When I say that, I am glad to see in his place the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields who, in 1948 and 1949—
§ Sir P. Agnew
I am always glad to see the right hon. Gentleman in his place, and on this occasion his presence helps me in my argument, so that I have two reasons for being glad to see him here.
It is not a strange coincidence that whoever is charged with the duties of Home Secretary and the responsibility for maintaining law and order, whatever his views may be before he takes that office, inevitably finds that, when charged with the duties of his office, he feels he cannot discharge his high responsibilities without retaining the supreme penalty for those who commit murder. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields himself has, I understand, since changed his own view now that he is no longer Home Secretary—I do not suggest it is because he is no longer Home Secretary—and he has fallen from that state of grace when he favoured the retention of the supreme penalty.
The other example I have in mind is that of Major Lloyd-George who, in 1948 and 1949, to the best of my recollection, voted to abolish the death penalty but who, when he became Home Secretary, found that he ought to retain it in the interests of the preservation of law and order.
If I may, I will for a moment weary the House by explaining what has been the chief factor which has governed my own change of view. It is precisely that consideration for those who have to undertake these weighty responsibilities. I believe, therefore, that the Bill is right in that it re-enacts the death penalty for the most grievous cases of murder, those where the murderer strikes at the very weapons and machinery which the State has for keeping law and order. It is right that the State should then strike back and show its hand in the strongest way possible. That I believe to be the purpose of the Bill.
As regards the rest of the Bill or, rather, those categories of murder with which the Bill deals and for which it prescribes a lesser and not irrevocable penalty, I am very glad indeed that these reforms are to come about. I do not share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) who suggests that this is but a quick step forward, which will very shortly be followed by another—the complete abolition of 490 the death penalty. I am glad to be able to support a Measure which is evidence that the Government and, as I believe will be shown, this House of Commons in 1957 believe that the state of our society is such that the death penalty can be swept away for a very large number of cases, and retained only for those most heinous crimes directed against the proper authority of the State itself.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
The two first back bench speeches from the Government side illustrate the painful position in which the Government have placed their own loyal members if they are or have been abolitionists. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) damned the Bill by the very faint praise he gave it. As for the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew), I gather from him that he has changed his own mind and that he was an abolitionist in 1947. That surely should put him out of court for teasing my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for changing his opinions.
I will leave the hon. and gallant Gentleman's criticisms of my right hon. Friend, as former Home Secretary, to my right hon. Friend who will, I hope, be taking part in the debate later on. On the constitutional issue, I would say simply that many of us on this side of the House do not hold the view that two wrongs make a right, that two floutings of the House of Commons by the House of Lords mutually justify each other. I believe that the House of Commons was wrong the first time it gave way to the House of Lords, and I believe that that is so in what is happening today.
Third Reading debates are the occasion for tributes, and I should like to pay a very sincere tribute to my hon. Friend for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I do not see eye to eye with him on some things. I do not even see eye to eye with him in detail on the question of capital punishment. But I believe that the whole House will agree that, in his courage, his skill, his patience and tenacity in fighting this battle year after year, he has lived up to the best traditions of the great back benchers of the British House of Commons. Even the Bill this afternoon contains much for 491 which my hon. Friend can be congratulated and which derives from the fight that he has been putting up over these years. If this afternoon is a defeat, let him remember that Samuel Plimsoll, also a back bencher, was defeated again and again.
I shall vote against the Bill and for the Amendment with some regret, with regret because the first part of the Bill is excellent. The reform of the law of murder is long overdue, and the reforms that are made in the law by Part I of the Bill have, I imagine, the wholehearted support of almost everybody in this House and of almost everybody in the country. I pay tribute to the legal experts, some of whom are sitting in this Chamber, who have taken part in making this really worthwhile reform in the law of murder that we find in Part I of the Bill.
Part II of the Bill, however, as the Amendment says, flouts the express will of the House of Commons. We hear a lot of talk nowadays, sometimes on the radio and sometimes even by hon. Members of this House, regretting that most of the votes in this Chamber are tied by the party machines. People say that it is a pity hon. Members are not more free to vote as they like. Most of us agree on the necessity of the party system. We agree on the necessity for imposing party discipline, because Governments could not govern without it and the system of utterly free voting in the House of Commons would weaken the British system of Government, and because we are divided in this House according to two rival political philosophies.
Capital punishment, however, is not a party question. Some Socialists believe in it, some Conservatives want to abolish it. When the House decided by its vote in the last Session to abolish capital punishment, that decision was, I think, as free and as unfettered as any decision that has ever taken place in the history of the House of Commons. I believe therefore, that the Government are really wrong when they use the machinery of government to dragoon this Bill through the House. If one required any evidence of that, it was to be found in the speech of the hon. Member for Gravesend, who regretfully explained why he would vote for the Bill. The Government must be making many of their supporters vote 492 against their sincerely and firmly held convictions and their expressed opinions, opinions to which they held most courageously on the Government side against all kinds of pressure in the days when we were debating the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne.
We are told that we are doing this today in the name of compromise, and compromise is not a bad thing. Parliament exists on compromise. In this case, however, the compromise is not between the majority of opinion in the House of Commons and the minority of opinion in the House of Commons, but is, in my opinion, a compromise between the elected representatives of the people, on the one hand, and another place, on the other hand. If another place had not thrown out the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne in the last Session, this Bill today would never have existed and the first one would now be law.
I do not believe in the second Chamber—at least, as at present constituted—and s a democrat I certainly do not believe in conceding anything to the vestige of power which remains with another place. Therefore, in so far as this Bill is a yielding of the House of Commons to the House of Lords, I am against it. For me, the House of Commons is the supreme authority and the Parliament Acts almost as precious as Magna Carta.
The second reason for my opposition to the Bill is that it contains Clause 5. If the Bill had retained capital punishment for a group of murders selected on moral grounds, if it had selected, as the hon. and gallant Member for Worcestershire, South imagines that it does, the most heinous and hateful murders, today I think I could have supported it. I am not a fanatical abolitionist. I believe that there is room for compromise in moving to abolition by stages. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne may be right when he says that it is so extremely difficult to decide between kinds of murders that abolition is the only logical and satisfactory answer. But if there is a case for compromise, Clause 5 is the most ridiculous attempt imaginable to select a group of murders as the compromise group.
Murder, according to Clause 5, becomes a capital offence on technical 493 grounds, not on grounds of moral turpitude. During the discussion on Clause 5, some of us tried to make it at least a little more morally defensible and I only wish that the former Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), had seen fit to press his Amendment on poisoning when we were discussing it, and had not left just four of us to support it.
I do not believe that any hon. Member will be able to justify to his constituents a Bill which makes murder with a revolver capital, which puts in jeopardy the life of anyone who causes death by an explosion, no matter what the attendant circumstances may be, but which deliberately enacts that the most outrageous, brutal, cruel and vicious murder committed by any other method will not be capital.
British people respect the law probably more than any other people in the world. I am sure that they will not be able to understand or to defend, and cannot possibly approve of, the Bill, even if there is anything in the theory that capital punishment is a unique deterrent—which I doubt—that will deter people, not from committing murder, but from using certain kinds of instruments when they commit murder. If the unique deterrent theory works, it will deter the murderer from shooting and instruct him to use an axe or a hammer or to poison or to strangle.
For those two reasons—first, the constitutional reason, the fact that this Bill flouts the declared will of the House, and secondly, because it is a bad compromise in that it chooses for the retention of capital punishment a group of murders merely on technical and not on moral grounds—I shall vote for the Amendment.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
Like other hon. Members who have spoken from both sides of the House this afternoon, I should like to pay my sincere tribute to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), with whom I totally and profoundly disagree; I think I have listened to all his speeches in these debates over the last few years, and nobody in the House would disagree with me when I say that we all recognise his 494 complete sincerity and his very distinguished Parliamentary performance in advocating his beliefs. I should like to say that, because that is what we all feel.
As, I think, the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) said—and certainly we would all agree on this too—there is absolutely nothing new that anyone can say this afternoon on this subject. We have all said it and listened to it on many occasions. Certainly, I do not want to deal with Part I of the Bill, which is much more suitable territory for a lawyer than for a layman, but I should like to try to answer shortly some of the points made by hon. Members opposite on Part II of the Bill, not on the aspect of the so-called bargain, of which I have no knowledge, but upon the merits of Part II itself.
Part II, which is much the most controversial part of the Bill, is based, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, upon the principle that the Government, and particularly, of course, the Home Secretary himself, have an inescapable public duty to maintain law and order in the land. The whole point of Part II of the Bill is to protect the public from violence by professional criminals and to maintain effectively the Queen's peace for her law-abiding subjects.
It is that responsibility which rests fairly and squarely upon the Government, and it is that which justifies the Government in saying that the Whip should be on and that there should not be a free vote. This is a Government Bill and it enshrines what I believe to be the Government's duty to maintain law and order. It will be generally agreed, I should think, that law and order are threatened more, or, perhaps one should say, mainly, by the activities of the professional criminal, and one of the strongest arguments for the retention of the death penalty is the need to have a deterrent which will prevent such men from committing murder in the course of their other crimes.
When the professional criminal goes out on a job he knows perfectly well that he risks imprisonment if he is caught. If he risks nothing else he may kill as well, if he is surprised in his act of robbery it seems to me he may think it worth while to kill in order to avoid recognition or capture, provided that in so doing he risks nothing more than a longer prison sentence than that which he would 495 have got in any case for his robbery. If he risks his own neck it becomes another matter. The risk of a prison sentence is an ordinary occupational risk of the burglar, but the risk of hanging is not a normal risk at all. It is a risk which very few criminals in this country think it worth while to take, and it is because of that that they do not carry arms.
I remember a case—I was going to say a story, but the word "story" has a rather more light-hearted connotation so soon after a speech of one of my right hon. Friends the other night—a quite serious case which actually occurred of a criminal apprehended by the police while he was in the course of his crime. There was some large blunt instrument—I forget what: a jemmy, or something like that—near at hand. The policeman said, "Why did you not use it on me? You might have got away with it." The man replied, "If I had, I might have killed you, and then I should have swung." That was an example of the deterrent value of the death penalty. It certainly had its effect on that man. It had a special and unique deterrent value in that case.
That, in essence, is the reason and the justification, in my view, for Part II of the Bill. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will probably agree that the deterrent effect of the death penalty is likely to be far greater upon the professional criminal than upon what one may describe as the emotional murderer, and the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment supports that view. I shall not quote its Report at length. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Come is familiar with it. In paragraph 61 it says that the evidence given by representatives of the police and the prison service was quite unanimous on the point.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
It was, of course, completely contradicted by the evidence given by the police and prison officers in every abolitionist country.
§ Mr. Fisher
That may be, but the hon. Gentleman has often called in aid the findings of the Royal Commission himself, and the Royal Commission reported that in this country, which, after all, is the country with which we are concerned, the police and prison officers were entirely and unanimously convinced 496 of the deterrent value of capital punishment in its effect upon the professional criminal.
They thought that that was the reason why criminals do not generally carry firearms and other weapons in this country. They thought that if there were no capital punishment criminals would take to using violence and to carrying weapons, and that the police, who now are unarmed, might be compelled to retaliate. No one wants the police to carry arms, least of all the police themselves. Nevertheless, the Government are under a duty and obligation to protect their own servants and especially, I think, the police, whose work necessarily brings them into contact with the criminal classes.
There is also the duty upon the Government to protect the public, people like the cashier and the shopkeeper and the night-watchman and the ordinary householder—indeed, the passer-by who may, unwittingly and unwillingly, be involved in violence ensuing upon a smash and grab raid upon a jeweller's shop. Those people are entitled to protection. Some of them by virtue of the sort of jobs they do come into proximity with and special danger from criminals.
If we abolish the death penalty for murder by professional criminals, then a larger number of them will carry arms and the number of crimes they commit will increase, and the risks to the public will increase also. Surely, if we have to choose between a risk to a criminal and a risk to the public, there should be no doubt which we should choose.
Some hon. Members—I think the hon. Member for Rossendale is one of them—take the view that this Bill is illogical. I do not agree. If the Bill sought to distinguish between one type of murder and another on grounds of heinousness, which the hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King), who spoke just before me, rather favoured, then it would have been impossible to draft and impossible to justify, but it does no such thing. It is designed as a deterrent to the professional criminal and as a protection to the public.
I submit that it succeeds on both counts. It keeps the death penalty for crimes which are pre-eminently crimes against law and order. Crimes involving shooting or explosion, by their very 497 nature, because they are so indiscriminate and can kill other people who have nothing whatever to do with the commission or prevention of the offence, are crimes which obviously fall into that category. It is true that crimes such as murder in the course of rape or murder by poisoning are often much more awful, far more heinous. However, that is not the test we are trying to adopt.
If we were to include them in the Bill we should import into the Bill a completely new principle, the principle of moral revulsion. There is a great deal to be said for that principle. Many arguments about it have been advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) and my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). There is a great deal to be said for that principle, but it has nothing to do with this Bill.
We could not draft a Bill which sought such a line of demarcation, if we were actuated by that principle. If we were to change the basis of the Bill we should find it quite impossible to classify a murder as capital or non-capital, because we really cannot distinguish or even attempt to distinguish by Act of Parliament between murders which are more reprehensible and those which are less reprehensible. Therefore, I take the view that we must either abolish capital punishment altogether, which is the point of view, and the perfectly understandable and reasonable point of view, of most hon. Gentlemen opposite, or follow the only other alternative. I think the basis of this Bill is the only alternative to complete abolition.
As a retentionist, I believe this Bill is both useful and necessary as a protection to the public and as a deterrent to the professional criminal, and from what I have been able to ascertain from my own constituency I should say the public as a whole would rather have this Bill than complete abolition. I believe they are right in that view.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) argued that the Bill makes a distinction between murders which, he says, the Bill regards as offences against law and order and other murders. Personally I find it very difficult to maintain that distinction, but whether it be 498 possible or not it is not the only distinction made in this Bill. One distinction made in this Bill is between murders done with certain weapons and murders done with other weapons, and that has nothing to do with whether they are done in the course of a breach of law and order or not.
It has been suggested that the Bill is a compromise. It is a compromise, if it is one at all, between two totally incompatible things. Whether one believes in abolition or not, it has been pointed out again and again that such a compromise is impossible. But the Bill is not a compromise at all. It is a Bill for the suppression of the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill which was introduced by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). We all know that that is the object. No one is better fitted to defend the Bill than the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, but he will find it very difficult indeed to tell his colleagues on the Bench and at the Bar that this is a perfectly simple Bill and that it is easily defensible on grounds of principle, and a logical compromise on abolition which will present no difficulties in administration. If the Bill is a compromise it is a curious compromise between right and wrong and between totally differing views.
The main argument put forward today is that a special deterrent is necessary in cases where public order is involved. Like all arguments connected with the death penalty, the argument about deterrence is very difficult. I believe that there is no conclusive evidence one way or another as to whether the death penalty is a supreme deterrent or not.
The best argument that I know for capital punishment as a deterrent was from a slightly gloomy voice which I heard at a public meeting that I addressed. When I asked whom capital punishment deterred, a voice called out, "It deters one man from doing it twice." That is perfectly true, but apart from that, it is difficult to know whether there is any real evidence of its value as a deterrent or not. I know that many judges have said that it deters criminals from carrying revolvers, but we also know that prison officers and others have said that that is doubtful.
If capital punishment is a deterrent, then logically we should go further. 499 Torture would be an effective deterrent. The cropping of ears and branding would be effective. We revolted from those things and I believe that we have now reached a stage where most people revolt from this cold-blooded judicial hanging of people in the circumstances read out by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). As the question of deterrence is extremely doubtful, we must surely come to the conclusion, even on this narrow point which I admit is the best point that can be put forward for the retention of capital punishment, that on balance the death penalty is not defensible.
The police deserve all aid and sympathy in their difficult task, but I am not convinced that it is a good thing to put them in a special position. I know that the Bill does not in fact do that, as I believe the Joint Under-Secretary is indicating, but many of the arguments used in defence of the Bill are put forward on the ground that it would put the police in a special position.
I come then to the view put forward by the Home Secretary, that it is impossible to make a distinction in moral guilt between one murder and another. I agree that it is extremely difficult, and that is one reason why I believe that we must have total abolition. But if we are to attempt to maintain the death penalty in any way, we must sustain it on some feeling on the part of the public that it is justifiable. People must feel that where it is applied there must be some moral justification. But there is no moral justification for hanging a man because he committed a murder with one weapon rather than another. I do not feel passionately about poisoning. I am not sure if I were to be murdered that I would not prefer to be quietly poisoned rather than be battered to death with a blunt instrument. Nevertheless, there is strong public feeling against poisoners, and if poisoners are not to suffer the extreme penalty while those who shoot their victims are to do so, the ordinary public will not understand what we are about and the Home Secretary will find himself in an impossible position.
Some argue that the death penalty is now in effect being abolished and no one will be hanged again. I hope that that is the case, but if that really is at the back 500 of the minds of those who support the Bill, they had much better abolish capital punishment out and out.
Passing from the merits of capital punishment to the merits of the Government's handling of the Bill, I must say that that also seems to have been illogical. When the matter was first raised, the Government decided that the House should have a free vote. If they felt so strongly about the maintenance of law and order and the necessity of the death penalty, that was the moment when they should have told the House that we must maintain the penalty because the police require it. On the contrary. the House was allowed a free vote and now that vote is being reversed by the Government. The position now is that the House can have a free vote as long as it votes the way the Government wants it to do. That seems to be a new constitutional doctrine against which some protest should be made.
I make no complaint of the behaviour of the other place. Indeed, I rely implicitly upon the other place to throw out this Bill as well as the previous one. I look forward to that with some pleasure. I hope many people who are against a Second Chamber will then be converted to the necessity of having one—one with rather eccentric and dogmatic views. But if the other place does not do that, this controversy will rumble on every time a crime is committed in which the penalty might be enforced. The Home Secretary will be put in an unenviable position. There will be all the unpleasant excitement in the public Press. Eventually, I have no doubt whatever, the death penalty will be abolished. But I do not think that history will look back on the handling of these two Bills and say that the Government of the day acquitted themselves with either any courage or any logic.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Green (Preston, South)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), I have no words to eat on this controversy as far as the House is concerned. I hope that the few which I propose to speak today will not later provide me with a very unpalatable meal. I have some sympahty with the hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King) because, 501 like him, I have not left myself passionately engaged on either flank of this discussion. My reason has strongly told me that it was high time that the country made a move forward in the matter of the law relating to murder, and I have not been convinced that the death penalty is a unique deterrent. Consequently, I welcome the provision for the removal of the death penalty in certain cases.
I find that helpful to myself, and I imagine that it matches a growing mood in the country in the consideration of this matter. But, because I have not had passionate convictions one way or another, I have had to take into consideration, as other hon. Members have had to do, one other aspect of the matter. I have found it impossible altogether to separate considerations of public morality from considerations of public security.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) spent some time today considering that very point. I cannot go along with him to his conclusions at all. I believe that the majority of our people still hold strongly to the view that without the retention of the death penalty in some form, even if only for a limited area of crime, they themselves will feel insecure.
Many may say, and indeed have said, that this is purely a feeling founded on prejudice, on irrational fear, and has nothing to do with the stream of modern thought. It may be claimed that, because such a feeling is mainly prejudice, the Government should disregard it and should govern in spite of unpopularity. That view, too, has been expressed this afternoon. Well, let us take that view, of doing the unpopular thing, a thought that must always command respect in this House, I am sure. If a Government ceases to do the unpopular thing, it quickly ceases to be a Government. I have two observations to make on it. The first is that we must not claim that it is right to do the unpopular thing in one sphere and yet in another sphere we may only take action if we have a mandate. Yet we do have that very contradictory argument coming occasionally from certain hon. Members.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting, I am afraid that he has not appreciated the point. What we have said to the Govern- 502 ment is, "You can deal with this question on the basis of what you believe to be right, hoping that you can persuade public opinion to follow, or you can deal with this matter on the basis of what public opinion will stand, hoping that some day it will learn better." What the Government are doing is something for which they have no popular mandate, which the public will never be able to understand, and which is wrong anyhow.
§ Mr. Green
I follow the argument of the hon. Gentleman, but it was not quite the argument I was putting. I suggest that the Government, out of a long-continuing and often expressed public opinion on this matter, have acted on a majority opinion. After all, I believe it is still the majority public opinion that the retention of capital punishment should continue, even if it is only just so. Certainly I found that in my own constituency.
§ Mr. Green
Nevertheless it is a view which has not been suddenly produced. It has been held consistently by the public for a very long time, and in a matter of that kind I believe the Government are justified in claiming that, in order to keep the public feeling secure and thereby advance public morality, they must retain capital punishment. It is upon those grounds, and those grounds alone, that I voted for a group of Amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) at an earlier stage when we were discussing the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill. Because I held those views, I found it much easier than perhaps many other hon. Members do in this House to welcome this Bill more wholeheartedly than they have been able to do.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that we cannot expect this Measure to be rapturously received by passionate believers in either retention or total abolition. However, I believe it will have a much better welcome in the country than has so far been suggested here today. I have not personally had any public comeback in my constituency about the terms and provisions of this Bill as yet. I believe it to be a move forward in the right direction. Incidentally, I also have no knowledge of any special bargain entered into on this 503 matter. Then why should I? I voted for Amendments to the previous Bill. Because it is a step forward I welcome this Bill, and I believe that the public generally, retaining its feeling of security, will be the more ready to consider in an equable frame of mind any further reforms that we may wish to propose.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I apologise to the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Green) if I do not follow his argument. I do so the more readily because I want to apologise to all the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have preceded me for not following their arguments either.
During the discussions on this Measure and the preceding one we have debated ad nauseam questions of retribution, reform, deterrence, different types of murder, whether the Government have the duty to act according to current popular opinion or to stand out against it. I feel impelled on the Third Reading of this Bill to make a short contribution to the debate, not on those theoretical points, not on the points which matter in individual cases, but from a personal experience I have undergone. I suppose that I am the only Member of Parliament who has been serving sentences in British jails when men have been hanged. It is from that experience I want to speak on the Third Reading of this Measure before it is adopted.
I have been in English prisons when three men have been hanged. I was in one on the eve of the execution of another prisoner. The first of those prisoners was Sir Roger Casement. Whatever may be said about him now, he contributed during the period of his public service greatly to the humanitarian advance of the territories over which he had administration. I believe that even the sentence which brought him to death resulted from deep and sincere conviction. Whether the subsequent charges brought against Sir Roger Casement were true or not, I gathered from a glimpse of him which I had in Pentonville Prison on the eve of his execution that he was not an evil man.
I was in my cell and I heard steps outside. I stood on my stool and looked from the window. There was Sir Roger Casement, in the only place of loveliness 504 in that prison, a little garden of hollyhocks and other flowers, looking at the sunset for the last time. As he did it, one could see that his spirit and his personality became united with the infinite beauty of that scene. In my view, when this country executed Sir Roger Casement the next morning it was committing a crime against the very deepest things of the spirit, whatever his reputation may have been.
But it is not of one individual that I wish to speak. I was among those prisoners in the days before Sir Roger Casement was executed. It is universally accepted now that the purpose of sending men to prison is not merely retribution and not merely deterrence, but reform. I know nothing which can be more dehumanising to men in prison than the expectation of an execution in their midst. During those days before the execution of Sir Roger Casement there was only one subject among the prisoners in Pentonville Prison—would Sir Roger be hanged? Indeed, in the currency of prison, there was betting in terms not of money but of tobacco as to whether he would be hanged or not. The report came to us that prisoners had been sent to clean the scaffold, and immediately the odds went up.
What I am saying is that if our purpose is to reform and to humanise people who break our law, there could be no more de-humanising atmosphere in which they can be imprisoned than in the circumstances which precede an execution.
I was in prison on three other occasions when men were executed, and I want to speak for a moment or two of the effects upon not only the prisoners but the staff. First, the prisoners. It is not merely the effect which I have described in Pentonville Prison. In the case of the ordinary public when an execution takes place there is a morbid, nervous excitement. In some there is a rather vicious looking towards the event. I ask hon. Members to try to visualise what it is like in the circumstances of a prison cell when normal interests and normal life are far away, and where one may spend hours —eighteen hours in normal conditions in the days when I was in prison—shut in a cell. At the centre of the prison, where the halls converge like the radii of a circle, one has a consciousness that a man 505 is to die in a week —in three days—in one day.
In those circumstances, it is inevitable that there should he a nervous tension, a neurosis. One has only to ask any prison officer. The effort to control a prison population before an execution is inevitably far more difficult than in normal periods. In our own experience of normal life outside prison, we know the deterioration of moral opinion which precedes an execution. The deterioration is far greater in prison circumstances where the man to be executed is near at hand.
I want now to speak more particularly from the point of view of the staff. It has been urged more than once during these discussions that prison officers are opposed to the abolition of the death penalty. I can only say that that is far from my own experience, and I have served hard labour sentences in seven English prisons.
I remember one occasion when I was in hospital. It was in one of the larger cells where one had a bed. The hours of solitary confinement had come. To my astonishment, the key turned in the door and the chief warder entered. He said, "Are you all right, Brockway?" I said, "Yes, Sir." Then, to my astonishment, that elderly man, with long experience in the prison service, broke down and cried.
I said to him, "What is the matter?" He replied, "Tomorrow I have to accompany a man"—he gave me the name of the man —"when he goes to the scaffold. I have been in charge of him for three weeks. He has revealed his very inner soul to me. I feel that he is now almost my son; but tomorrow on the scaffold I shall have to undo his shirt so that the doctor can judge whether he is dead or alive. Because that man has told me all that is in his mind and all the reasons that led to his crime, I feel as if he were my son; and yet that is my duty tomorrow morning."
I think of two chaplains in prison, an Anglican chaplain and a Roman Catholic chaplain, intensely sincere and sensitive, so following the Master of their religion that they made the sins of others their own and carried them in their bearing and in their life. When those two men were to be called to an execution the 506 following day they were ill, and they were ill for days after the execution.
I would say to hon. Members tonight that we have no right to give a vote in the House for the continuation of the death penalty unless we ourselves are prepared to carry out the duties which the death penalty involves. Are we prepared to set the scaffold in order? Are we prepared, within a few days of his execution, to be looking after a man sentenced to death. No one who has been in prison preceding or during an execution can forget the experience or can really believe that in civilised times the death penalty should be maintained.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
The attention with which the House listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) showed how deeply he moved us with his personal experiences of prison and his closeness to the death cell. I do not think that anybody would resent the fact that he has put his personal dramatic style of oratory to this use, because we all feel somewhere in us that hanging is wrong. We feel it in different degrees, and according to our feeling we have decided that this is the time, or that this is not the time, to do away with capital punishment. But we all share something of what the hon. Member has put to us so passionately.
I share it particularly strongly myself. Ever since I have been in the House, throughout these debates I have raised my voice in favour of total abolition. Up to this moment I have voted consistently with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I could agree without any hesitation whatever to the last part of the last sentence of his Amendment, that…the death penalty for murder no longer accords with the needs or the true interests of a civilised society.Yet I shall not vote for the Amendment, and I shall vote for the Bill.
Why is that? In the closing passages of the speech with which he opened the debate from the other side of the House. the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) reproached some hon. Members on this side of the House who, he seemed to suggest, were in some way guilty of betraying the cause and 507 selling the pass to the retentionists. In my contribution to the debate I wish to repel that charge and to give my personal reason why I may appear to have come round half-way towards meeting the retentionist case, in the same way as the retentionists have come half-way towards meeting the abolitionist case. I can give my reason in one sentence. I believe that it is better to approach abolition in two steps with public approval than in one step without it.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Does the hon. Member really believe that the Government have a mandate for the Bill, or that the public would support it if it knew what was in it?
§ Mr. Nicolson
I agree with the hon. Member that the public is not particularly interested in the Bill, and that it was very interested in his Bill. In a later part of my speech I shall say that I do not believe that the Bill can be defended on grounds of logic.
§ Mr. Silverman
I would not have ventured to interrupt the hon. Member but for the sentence which immediately preceded my interruption. He then said that it was better to go halfway with public opinion. I ask him whether he thinks that the Bill goes half way, and whether he thinks that public opinion is behind it.
§ Mr. Nicolson
I think that it has been the experience of us all—it certainly has been mine—that there has been no public outcry against the Bill. I have not received one letter protesting against it. Is it not true that the results of our yearlong debate has been a movement towards abolition? This is part of the hon. Member's personal triumph; do not let him belittle what he has achieved. The public has become increasingly abolitionist—but it is not yet wholly abolitionist. Therefore, I believe that it is better, at this moment, to bring forward a Bill which partly meets the case of the abolitionists and partly that of the retentionists.
We should have some regard for public feeling on this subject. I do not think it would be right for the House to take decisions which were completely divorced from feelings in the country. Naturally, we must have the courage to maintain a point of view in which we sincerely 508 believe, but in the ultimate resort it is right that what we do here should have the support of public opinion, otherwise I do not know what is the meaning of democracy.
I want to try to draw a constitutional distinction in regard to the proper attitude of a Member of Parliament towards his constituents, which is a matter upon which I have been thinking a great deal in recent days. If I advance the view that a Member of Parliament should be guided to some extent by what his constituents think, I am sure that the House will not attribute it to cowardice—because in another regard and upon another occasion. quite recently, I have given proof of my conviction that in certain circumstances a Member of Parliament should follow the course that he believes to be right, even in defiance of the wishes of a -large number of his closest supporters.
In the case of a sudden decision, such as we all had to take in connection with the Suez incident, it is not possible to consult those who sent us here to represent them; indeed, they sent us here to make up our own minds upon the basis of our own judgment and in the light of the information which is in many cases available to us alone in virtue of our membership of Parliament. They would not wish us, on such occasions, to be guided solely by the opinions, however strong, which they happen to hold themselves. But in a question like capital punishment, which has been argued endlessly, upon which facts have been available to every man and woman in the country for years, where there is no urgency, and which has been the subject of debate after debate inside and outside Parliament, I believe that it is the wish of the public that what the House does should bear a fairly close relationship to what the public feels.
Until the last moment I felt that it was right to advance my own view, which was passionately abolitionist, because I was simply pressing an argument. I was saying to my colleagues in the House, and, indirectly, to those who sent me here, that I thought that abolition was right in their interests. I was attempting to persuade them. I was changing nothing, because we had not come to the final decision. We came to that final decision after the hon. Member's Bill had gone to the House of Lords and had been 509 rejected by that Chamber. If we had passed the same Bill again, after it had once been to the Lords, the Lords would have had no chance to repeat their rejection. In other words, what we did in this House on that final occasion would have been something which no other power in the land could reverse. It was a final act; it was no longer pure argument.
§ Mr. Silverman
Does the hon. Member really say that he was yielding to the House of Lords what he was denying to his constituents?
§ Mr. Nicolson
No. that is not my argument. My argument is that after the hon. Member's Bill had been rejected by the House of Lords and had come back to this House, our decision at that moment was an utterly final one. It was at that moment that we should have ceased to think of ourselves as putting forward a ease. and begun to think of ourselves as the legislators whose decision at that moment was irrevocable.
But should we have ignored what went on in another place? Some hon. Members have spoken of the debate in the House of Lords as if it were a hammer dropped by some careless stage hand behind the scenes; a noise which had no relevance whatever to the main debate and drama enacted in this Chamber. That is not the function of the House of Lords. The House of Lords' debate fulfilled two very essential purposes. One was to indicate to the world that there was still strong feeling among many men of mature judgment that total abolition was wrong. The other was to indicate that there was a very strong movement towards abolition. In my opinion. the House of Lords fairly summed up the stage which public opinion had reached at that moment in regard to this question, and I think that it is right that we should have listened to it. The Government listened to it—
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
Would the hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt, because I have considerable difficulty in following his argument and should like to appreciate it. Surely we knew the views of the House of Lords, because they had expressed their views in 1948. What we learned when they expressed themselves that second time was that, within the House of Lords, there was 510 a move, as the hon. Gentleman has said. towards abolition. Why should that factor induce the hon. Member to change his mind on the question of capital punishment?
§ Mr. Nicolson
I have not changed my mind on capital punishment. I started my speech by saying that I am still passionately an abolitionist. What I have done is to decide that at the moment when my decision became irrevocable. namely, when the House of Lords could have no further say on the subject, it would be right to be guided by public opinion. The Government made exactly the same decision. They did not apply the three-line Whip on retention and forbid us to vote as our conscience dictated. They, too, took note of public opinion and they produced a Bill which, when I first saw it. I thought would be rejected by the retentionists. I had far less difficulty in accepting it myself, because it admitted a principle, and it seemed to me that it admitted the probability that, sooner or later, we should have total abolition in this country. I hope that when we have it it will be brought about by a Conservative Government.
Why was it—and this is the final question that I wish to investigate—that public opinion was so strongly opposed to abolition? I think that it is because people were frightened by the innumerable speeches which had been made in both Houses by those who knew the facts warning the country that if we were to abolish the death sentence there would be a great increase in murders.
There is no doubt at all that when the Home Secretary and spokesmen for the police and for the prison warders said that, in their opinion, there would be a great leap forward in the murder rate if the death penalty were abolished, simple people, old and young, who perhaps had no access to facts on which to base a personal judgment, believed those authoritative spokesmen.
§ Mr. Nicolson
Of course not only simple people. but particularly simple people. So we had this surge of fear in the constituencies that people would be in imminent danger if capital punishment were abolished, and we were right to 511 listen to that view. Perhaps with the passage of this Bill the fear will be allayed because, for the first time, we shall have some proof that it was unjustified. We shall have proved that if, when we abolish the death sentence for poisoners and for those who commit rape with murder, those two particularly horrible crimes do not increase. We may even have proof—and I hope we will—to the opposite effect, that they will decrease. Once there is tangible evidence of that sort which can be laid before the public in regard to this country and not merely to other countries which have been through exactly the same process of trial, I think we shall be able to move with safety and confidence, and with the approval of the entire nation, towards the final stage of total abolition, which I hope to see while I am still a Member of this House.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
It gives me very great pleasure in being able to follow the hon. Member for Bournemouth. East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson). He should have no fears as to what hon. Members on both sides of the House think about him with reference to his attitude. We understand his feelings, and no one could ever accuse him of cowardice. I am perfectly sure.
At the same time, somewhat lightheartedly, I must commiserate with him that he represents a division where such feeling was brought against him and compare it with a division like my own where, indeed, it was not manifest, and, still lightheartedly, I wonder why that should be, because my constituents are, in the main, poor people and his are not.
I have often compared my own constituency with the hon. Member's, because his is so fortunately placed. It has no subsidence problem; it does not live on a field of coal; its people are often very well educated, very happy, and have had many opportunities in life; and yet they attacked him so viciously in pursuit of what, I think, he was doing quite rightly as a Member of this House. I admire very much the stand which he put up, and so, I think, does every Member of the House.
Some very remarkable speeches have been made this evening, and I do not intend to keep the House long. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and 512 Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is not in his place at the moment, it gives me an opportunity to say that I also would like to pay tribute and offer my admiration for the way in which he has pursued his views and for his remarkable skill as a Parliamentarian.
The Home Secretary's speech was, I think, one of the most dignified and remarkable speeches that I have ever heard, in the way in which it was phrased and how it revealed in one way and disguised in another the Home Secretary's thoughts. It was quite apparent that he was showing, as' clearly as could be, yet hiding his thoughts in words, that he is himself an abolitionist—as strong an abolitionist as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch, and perhaps almost as strong an abolitionist as I am myself. It was a remarkable performance, and I am not decrying it in the least.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) will agree that the Home Secretary did manifest to us that, if he could have had his way, in all sincerity he would have said, "I too am an abolitionist, but I am also the Home Secretary."
§ Dr. Stross
My hon. Friend is not quite sure because, perhaps, he thinks that he was giving way to the clamour of a certain party when he was, as it were, in the Chair. That may well be. All the arguments which have been adduced so far—and I am sure they have all been adduced—have been debated throughout the country for a long time. The convictions and opinions which we have expressed from this side of the House leave me to have no hesitation whatever in supporting the Amendment.
There is only one other reason that affects my mind and which is perhaps not often put forward, and in this I may be absolutely wrong, because I cannot prove that it is true. I remember that when I first read a phrase of Goethe's I wondered what he meant. He declared that all guilt had to be expiated on earth, and he meant in this world here on this earth. As I grew older I began to have a little better understanding, although it is quite impossible fully to understand it. I have come to the conclusion that, like many other 513 thinkers, poets and great religious teachers, he thought that there is a real reason why we should live on earth, that it is not fortuitous or accidental, and it is a very important thing to be attached to a human body, this animal thing with which we clothe ourselves for a time, and that the experience we come to gain, whether we come once or many times, is utterly valid and utterly necessary to us.
If that be the case, when we judicially kill a man, because he has himself been a killer, we rob him of his opportunity of repentance, for it is doubtful whether a man can repent in the grave. However horribly a man as an individual has sinned against a fellow man, to take from him his chance to repent, his opportunity in tears and in prayer to expiate his guilt, is something which I strongly believe to be wrong. I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne is correct and that we shall never again, as collective society, in cold blood take a man's life.
I am quite satisfied that the act of hanging is not a painful or cruel business in itself as an act, although the attendant circumstances are rather horrible. A few weeks ago, a colleague of ours was bludgeoned in the streets. This afternoon he told me that he felt no pain whatsoever and was not even in pain when he found himself conscious again and lying in the gutter. I myself was once left for dead, and the blow which struck and almost killed me was not at all a painful matter—a flash of slight surprise and annoyance, and then darkness and apparent sleep.
I am not worried about the Act as such but that we do not give a man a chance to feel bitterly, sadly, and for a long time what a dreadful thing he has done. If we never have another hanging, that will make me and many millions of people in this country very much happier.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
I have listened with great interest and respect to those hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), whose speeches have displayed the deep and conscientious repugnance felt by so many hon. Members towards the capital penalty. Those of us who in various ways have contact with death are bound 514 to be appalled by it in whatever circumstances it happens.
I myself have taken no part in any of the debates in the last year on this subject. I last spoke on it when we debated the Report of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment. I think that Sir Basil Nield and I made the only two back bench speeches which were on the Report and not on abolition as such. At that time I said, and I say again, that whatever one's qualms and feelings, one cannot agree with the complete abolitionist point of view.
I do not have strong feelings on the subject. I am not ferociously antagonistic towards the abolitionists, neither am I upset by some of the manifestations of the other extreme. In fact, it would ill become anybody who practises mental medicine to have violent feelings of that sort. However, I must say that whatever one's squeamishness and whatever one's feelings about death, especially death which is imposed, they must be subordinated to the need to preserve the community, as the community understands that need at any given time.
Therefore, I hope that I am a moderate, although I am a retentionist and I am not ashamed to say so. The Bill meets with remarkable success the beliefs and strongly, sincerely held opinions of Members and those they represent from either flank of opinion, as well as those like myself who are very much in the middle. The Government deserve credit, which they will no doubt receive, for having steered such a tricky path to such a compromise between violently held opinions.
It has been said that the country does not welcome the Bill nor feel antagonistic towards it. The Bill has been passing through the House in circumstances of remarkable calm, especially when the manifestations of earlier debates are remembered. It was then most deplorable that people should have given rein to their emotions on a matter where, more than any other under the sun, we needed dispassionate judgment.
We have here a Bill which very much meets points on which it was absolutely necessary that we should bring our attitudes up to date. I have no doubt that everybody will agree that the existing practices of our capital punishment and trials for murder are hopelessly out 515 of date. A wealth of expression has been delivered in the House about the macabre ceremonial meted out to everybody who has inflicted death—meted out in the sure knowledge that nothing is to come of it, or nothing very much. That is so out of date that we must welcome the change which removes that anomaly and keeps the death sentence for certain forms of murder for which we had to retain it.
I do not need to repeat arguments and to say how impossible would be the position of policemen and other guardians of the peace—and prison officers—if there were no further penalty for one convicted of murder should he wish to murder one of his guards, or those temporarily in charge of him. That would be an absurdity and it is a difficulty upon which the abolitionists have failed to convince me that their views are sound.
The provisions in the Bill which come closest to my own earlier professional interests are those for diminished responsibility. I think that has been one of the most difficult things, and I suspect that it will remain one of the most difficult things, which the courts of law have to face. Here I have to say that I have considerable unease in mind about Clause 2, an unease which was set forth clearly in The Times yesterday by a learned colleague who has great experience in forensic psychiatry. He pointed out that if we have a reduced verdict to manslaughter automatically on proof of diminished responsibility, then we are having a new code on which the courts will have to decide these matters which is simultaneously in existence and in conflict with the code which has not been abolished in the M'Naghten Rules. We have, in fact, a double mechanism for deciding the same thing. We have the M'Naghten Rules and Clause 2 about diminished responsibility.
What puzzles me, and what I feel that the courts in future will be extremely baffled by, unless clarification is provided, is which of these mechanisms is to be invoked in murder trials. I am not saying this in any mischievous sense; I honestly do not see this to be applicable. If there is a prima facie—as I think the legal gentlemen say—abnormality of mind, does a charge of murder still stand? Or if it is evident from unopposed medical evidence before a trial comes to 516 pass that the prisoner's mental condition was in other ways deranged, does the indictment drop to that of manslaughter or is it maintained? If there is a charge of murder, am I right in understanding that the outcome of the charge must be either that the prisoner was unfit to plead on arraignment—that he was guilty or not guilty or that he was guilty but insane—or is there the further alternative, when the charge is murder, that he is guilty of manslaughter? Or does he really go for trial on a charge of manslaughter to which he could be guilty or not guilty? I do not think that is clear.
The difficulty that is really much greater is the one of deciding on what basis and to what degree there is irresponsibility. The provision in Clause 2, as is known, is whether the accused… was suffering from such abnormality of mind (whether arising from a condition of arrested Or retarded development of mind or any inherent causes or induced by disease or injury) as substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts and omissions.…Against that we have the M'Naghten Rules, which, as I remember them, are whether the accused was suffering at the time from such a defect of mind as to be unable to appreciate the nature of his act or the fact that it was wrong.
What I want to put to my hon. and learned Friend is this: which of these two standards comes first? Is there a priority, that one of them is to be applied first and then the other, and if so, which? Does one supersede the other? May I assume, may we all assume, that in future in cases of homicide there will be no consideration of the M'Naghten Rules which we all know are an incredibly awkward Procrustean bed on which these things have to be judged? Can the Secretary of State explain in debate, or can there be perhaps a change in drafting in another place which will make clear what is to be the criterion by which these cases have to be judged in respect of defect of mind or diminished responsibility? I do not think it is clear as it is. I feel that it will have to be made more clear for the sake of the people who will have to act on this Bill when it becomes law.
§ Mr. Montgomery Hyde (Belfast, North)
Does not my hon. Friend appreciate that there is nothing in the Bill which abrogates the M'Naghten Rules, and that, in practice, if a man or 517 a woman is found guilty but insane, he or she would be sent to Broadmoor? If they were found guilty of manslaughter, presumably, they would go to the psychopathic institution which is being built.
§ Dr. Bennett
With respect, I think that my hon. Friend has put his finger on the great difficulty which is that of disposal. If I am not mistaken, if a person is found guilty of manslaughter. there could be little purpose in sending the offender to a psychopathic institution, as is the practice in Denmark. Psychopathic institutions of this sort are not likely to prove effective if the term for which the offender is sentenced is a finite one, so that he knows, whatever he does in the hospital or institution, that he will get out on the same date irrespective of his behaviour. I do not believe that the East Herbert Institution now being built is likely to be effective or give anything like the results that the Herstedvester Institution in Denmark is giving, unless we are prepared to agree that for curative purposes the mentally afflicted offender must be sent to such an institution for an indefinite sentence with the varying degrees of probation that will follow it as his rehabilitation becomes more complete.
That is the problem. I would not bother about this matter, were it just a matter of the letter of the law, and the disposal of the offender were the same no matter which of these two codes apply. But it makes a difference, because, as my hon. Friend says, if the M'Naghten Rules apply, a man found to be suffering from a defect of reason will go to Broadmoor which is automatically an indefinite sentence. If, however, his defect of mind—for all I know it may be the same defect —is found to be one which justifies a sentence for manslaughter, he will go down for, I think, seven years; and there will be no consideration of any treatment for his mental state except such as is incidental to an ordinary term of imprisonment.
That is the dilemma which struck my psychiatric friend when he wrote that letter in The Times, and it is a dilemma which struck me all of a heap when I read the letter yesterday. It is one which I think we need to have explained for the good of the offenders who will be sentenced in the future and, of course, for the guidance of people who work in trying to rehabilitate criminals, even those who have committed murder.
518 Apart from that dilemma which I see there. I welcome the Bill. I hope it will received a speedy passage and be translated into law very quickly, because I know that after that has been done the country will be greatly relieved to find that such a constructive effort and one requiring so much thought has at last been made.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
May I follow the good precedent of the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) and speak with moderation and also give him the satisfaction of knowing that I thoroughly agree with him when he says that in this Bill the Government have followed a tricky path. Were I not speaking under this self-imposed restraint. I should be tempted to say that they have followed a very slippery path.
I wish to take the opportunity, while speaking with moderation, to say that I respect and have always respected—I have taken part in innumerable debates on this subject—the sincerity of those who believe in the retention of capital punishment. In fact, this is one of the difficulties. If these principles had not been held with such stubborn sincerity, we might have made more rapid progress. Sincerity alone is not always a good guide. It sometimes leads to a too-conservative outlook on many things. Nevertheless, I recognise at once that hon. Members opposite, particularly those who passionately support capital punishment, speak with real sincerity.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) in paying tribute to the Home Secretary, who I thought spoke today with an attractive, philosophic approach to the problem. This is indeed essentially a philosophic matter. Capital punishment itself is a squalid, sordid thing. One has to resort to realms of philosophy to justify it. I do not at all complain about the Home Secretary taking this philosophic approach, for I am amongst those who hope that he will have time, and will encourage the Joint Under-Secretary of State, for whom I also have hope, to devote his attention to the general question of penal reform. It is time that we looked again at the high hopes we had at the time of the Criminal Justice Act.
519 Speaking in this conciliatory way, I also concede that the Bill is doing many good, constructive things about the law of murder. I do not take quite the critical view of it which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) took. Many of the points raised by the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham are Committee points, but I will give him this consolation: it would not have helped him at all if he had raised them in Committee, because unfortunately the Government refused to listen to anything in Committee. It is believed by those who are best informed that the Government had good reason to have deaf ears to all the entreaties made to them. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that on a non-party matter, such as the law of murder, the Government were not more amenable to the different points of view expressed. I can only hope that the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham has friends in another place where the atmosphere may be more conducive to the acceptance of Amendments and that the points which he has raised will be considered there more constructively.
I must oppose the Third Reading. The reason, frankly, is that the Bill retains capital punishment. I concede that it limits the sphere of capital punishment and of capital murders, but the complaint which has been made, and which is justified, is that it does so on very technical grounds; and if we are considering the question of capital punishment, it is offensive to consider its infliction being determined on technical grounds.
I will take one simple illustration— the question of shooting as a manner of murder. It is ridiculous to try to distinguish murders by such a test. I challenge the Under-Secretary of State to produce the figures. There is a false impression that a large proportion of the murders by shooting are murders of police officers, but that is not so at all. A large number of such murders are of husband or wife. I suspect a class bias here, and I am surprised that no one has spoken for the poor harassed squirearchy. The fact that a murder has been committed by shooting does not indicate that it is premeditated. A gun has very often been the nearest available lethal 520 weapon, just as in other circumstances a hammer has been the nearest weapon. It will be impossible when the Bill becomes law to differentiate between murders in this way because there will be contemporaneous murders, one perhaps by shooting and one by hitting somebody on the head with a hammer. In both cases the lethal weapon used will have been the nearest available weapon at the time of the murder.
§ Dr. Bennett
We all greatly appreciate the rare constraint which the hon. Member is employing today. It is greatly to be welcomed. But apart from the rare occasions when an old shooting gun is handled, is not the whole point about the provisions concerning shooting that of eliminating the carrying of pistols, guns and other pocket firearms, which are the weapons, far more than any other. with which murders are committed?
§ Mr. Willey
I appreciate that point of view, and it is the point which the Government have in mind. I could have understood it if we had had a definition in the Bill limiting murder by shooting in that way.
The other category of murder by shooting to which I would refer in passing is that by members of the Forces. It so happens that they have the means of killing by shooting, but this does not mean that it is a ground for differentiating such a murder from murders which are committed by other methods.
My principal objection to the tricky course, to accept the hon. Member's description, which the Government are taking is that this is an offensive disregard of the House of Commons. I do not want to make an unfair point about Party Whips. for I appreciate that the party in office is in a different position from the party in Opposition. But this is an important matter to the House of Commons. This was an occasion on which the House of Commons expressed its point of view. Most hon. Members have felt at one time or another that the party machines are carrying us too far. We all get instructions and directions about voting, on each side of the House, which carry party loyalty to ridiculous lengths. We vote by party loyalty about matters on which it is ridiculous to imagine that there are any party points of view. I believe we have 521 reached the stage in Committee where the party machines have been making nonsense of free and constructive debate. It is a myth and an undesirable fiction that all the pervading political wisdom is somewhere in the inner realms of the party machine.
Here was something which we could not avoid noticing. We could not avoid the obligation of standing up for the House of Commons. Here was an occasion on which the Government expressly allowed the House of Commons to determine what our point of view should be. I appreciate at once that hon. Members on the Government side of the House are in a more difficult position than we on this side of the House, but this is a very important point in Parliamentary history. It is no good any of us talking outside about how we believe that Members of Parliament should assert the rights of the House against the rights of the Government of the day, or even the Opposition, if we then allow those rights to go by default. I have no high hopes of what may happen in the Division, but I ask those who, for perhaps very good reasons, feel that they cannot be consistent in the expression of view which they made previously, to realise that it is unfortunate that this damages the House of Commons itself.
I think this was important constitutionally, because the House on this occasion expressed a point of view for the people we represent. I have never taken the view, perhaps arrogantly, that a Member is only a delegate. If we took that point of view, I think, if I may say so without offence, that we could make progress only very slowly indeed. I think that the House of Commons, particularly in matters such as this, should be in advance of public opinion.
It is part of our job as politicians to have a feeling for what is in advance of public opinion. It is true that if we go too far in advance we shall probably prejudice our own position here, but it is unreal to think that all we have to do is to reflect outside opinion. However, whether or not that be so, it was understood that, when we took our decision on capital punishment, we were endeavouring to express the view of the country as a whole. Once more, I say that it is derogatory now to go back on that decision, having once taken it. 522 Therefore, on these broad grounds, I feel that we are taking not only a tricky, but an unfortunate course tonight.
Coming more directly to the question of limited retention, I do not know on what authority or information my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne alleges that there is an understanding that in any case capital punishment will not be inflicted. All I can say is that I have no such information.
For the second time, and for quite a considerable period, we have, in effect, had abolition. I do not know whether, when the Home Secretary and his predecessor have repeatedly stated that they have decided each case on its merits, we can infer that, in fact, capital punishment is abolished for all practical purposes. I can see that being so, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will assure us on it.
I want to emphasise this point because we recently had a judge, whom we all knew and respected as a Member of this House, calling attention to a particular murder. He did that. I assume, with the express purpose of calling the attention of the Home Secretary and of the public to this case—because the Home Secretary, very properly, has repeatedly stated that he is expressing the views of the public on this subject. This is one of the reasons that we have this Bill before us now. In that case we have had a reprieve, so I think that we are entitled to some assurance from the Under-Secretary about the present exercise of the prerogative.
Quite apart from the argument, or the allegation, of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, we have to follow precedent if we re-establish liability to capital punishment. However, allowing for that, what we in this House are now doing is, for all practical purposes, to re-introduce capital punishment. Disregarding the free decision of the House, I should have thought that there was a very heavy burden on the Government before they took such a step. but no evidence at all has been produced.
For what it was worth, I held a meeting in my constituency on this problem, although I would not for one moment say that that necessarily represented the view of my constituency as a whole. But what steps have the Government taken to satisfy themselves that there is this desire to bring to an end the present 523 suspension of capital punishment or, if we look at it in another way, to bring to an end the experiment of an abolition of capital punishment? It was for that reason that I, mentioned this recent case.
As far as I am aware, the decision in that case met with no response from the less responsible, sensational newspapers, which have a very good way of knowing what improves the sales of their newspapers. It has not been regarded as a matter in which there is any very real, "live" public interest. I should have thought that the first burden on the Government was to say that there had been this pressure. If they rely on the second ground, that there had been pressure on them from within the Parliamentary wing of the Conservative Party. I would say that we were up against the argument that I was previously deploying; that it would be wrong, for that reason, to use the party machine to upset a majority view of this House.
Furthermore, there is this very heavy responsibility on the Government. I feel that the major, the cardinal objection to capital punishment today is that it marks the approbation of violence. When the State invokes capital punishment it is patently resorting to violence, and this is aggravated by the attendant publicity. This is something which is contrary to the whole development and growth of western civilisation.
What we have so far succeeded in doing is progressively to limit the scope of violence, and I should have thought that the Government would have been most reluctant to have approbated violence, to have put their seal on it, and that they would have been somewhat discomforted that, in this regard, we are out of step with two European countries which have come back into the comity of Western European civilisation, countries which have had a very marked experience of violence in recent years.
Both Western Germany and Italy have been able to abolish the death penalty. That is why I emphasise this point of approbation of violence. Again, unless there had been a clamour, unless the Government had produced overwhelming evidence to show that public order would deteriorate, I think that they were obliged to continue the suspension, or to have 524 said, "We have continued the suspension sufficiently long to decide that capital punishment may now go."
There is a second, broad, general factor which arises and it is, again, an essential part of our progress and development as a civilised community in the Western world. That factor is the position of the individual. If one wished, one could argue philosophically that it is difficult to regard the death penalty as a punishment. I do not want to go into such philosophic fields, but certainly it is a very decisive way of dealing with an individual. Just as in Western Europe we have developed by limiting the field of violence, just as those countries which lapsed recently into violence have now abolished capital punishment, so in the Western world we have developed by placing greater and greater emphasis on the individual. This is as essential to democracy as majority rule: in fact. without the two, majority rule itself can be a pretty rough way of dealing with people.
Again, our consideration of the individual is inherent in the issue on capital punishment. One can argue—as I say, I accept the sincerity of those who argue for capital punishment—that capital punishment is such a great deterrent that, deciding the matter in individual terms, because it deters others from committing murders, the overriding interest of the individual is served by its retention. But I cannot see how one can argue that with any force when we reduce the scope of capital crimes to such narrow limits, and without showing that during the period of suspension there has been an increase in murders. We all know that the contrary is the case, although we do not argue anything positive from it; we can at least say that the evidence is neutral. On those two broad grounds, the Government are ill advised. They have not thought sufficiently philosophically in restoring capital punishment.
I wish to say a few words now about another matter which I have discussed before in Committee, about which I feel very strongly and about which I am repeatedly surprised that I do not get the support of more lawyers. I do not like and have never liked the wide exercise of the Royal Prerogative. I regard it as most offensive that the question of life or death should be decided by executive 525 action, that the decision of a court about capital punishment should be upset or altered by executive action.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Is not the real difficulty that in practice the exercise of the Royal Prerogative has become a method of preventing the law from operating in cases where the Home Secretary advises the Crown that it would be unjust for it to operate? But if the law were so constructed as to make all proper distinctions itself, there would, would there not, still be room for the exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy on the basis that mercy starts where justice leaves off?
§ Mr. Willey
I thoroughly agree. I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I think it is implicit in what he has said and I was going on to add that if we have to concede that we must rely upon the Prerogative of Mercy, then we must say that the stage has been reached where capital punishment ought to be abolished.
§ Mr. Willey
What is the position which would obtain when the Bill becomes law, when one out of forty-eight murderers will be liable to capital punishment? What an extraordinarily difficult thing, is it not, to say that out of forty-eight murderers one is liable to be executed? What are the criteria? They cannot be the criteria laid down in the Bill. Obviously, it would be quite offensive to suggest that these criteria should decide that one murderer out of forty-eight should be executed.
As has already been pointed out, we may, as a result of the Bill, have four executions a year. Is it really worth while to retain capital punishment to secure this end? What an invidious position the Home Secretary will be in in determining this issue of life and death. As against the one case which is brought before him, we shall know that there have been forty-seven other murderers in other varying circumstances.
I would say quite directly to the Under-Secretary, Why on earth do the Government want to start hanging people? What purpose will it serve? Why can we not continue the suspension which has operated without embarrassment to the right hon. Gentleman or his predecessor? Why should the House of Commons and Parliament not express its view now, when we all know—it has 526 been made quite clear during the debate today—that within a short time, at any rate, the question of capital punishment will be settled once and for all by its abolition? What a dreadful responsibility meanwhile to place upon the Home Secretary to ask him to decide, in four cases a year at most, whether capital punishment should be inflicted.
I hope that we shall have, from the Home Secretary or from the Under-Secretary, a reply that the action of the Home Secretary during the past eighteen months means that it is inconceivable that any circumstances will arise in the future which will lead to the infliction of capital punishment again.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
It would be only fair that at least the voice of one retentionist should be heard. I claim the same sincerity as is claimed by hon. Gentlemen opposite who take exactly the opposite view. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland. North (Mr. Willey) has just said that he calculates there will be about four executions a year under the present proposed Bill.
§ Mr. Osborne
Let us take his figure as an example. If I believe and if, as I think, the vast majority of people outside this House believe—[Interruption.] I am merely stating my case, and I am just as entitled to state it and just as likely to be wrong as hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Believing, with the vast majority of people outside this House, that capital punishment does act as a deterrent, I believe, therefore, that if those four executions referred to will save four innocent persons' lives they will be abundantly justified.
§ Mr. Osborne
No one can say one way or another. That has been accepted on both sides of the House. I am as entitled to take my view as is the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tottenham (Sir F. Messer). If I may be allowed to say so, the point of view of hon. Gentlemen opposite has been put at great length, and someone should be allowed to put my point of view.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am sure that the whole House will support the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) in what is a very modest and reasonable claim. I will not detain him very long, but I should like him to make clear that he proposes to vote against the Bill. He says that he believes in retaining capital punishment, and if the Bill gives him four, that is all very well; but I would remind him that if the Bill is defeated he will get twelve executions a year. Why, then, does he want to vote for such a Bill?
§ Mr. Osborne
As I said to the hon Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne the other day, if life were a matter of sheer logic and we were ruled by logic—
§ Mr. Osborne
—the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne would not speak again for twenty years. If there were fair shares of voice in this House, he would be effectively gagged for the rest of his life.
I make no apology for putting my point of view. I hold my opinion and other hon. Members have theirs. In the coming years, the very opposite of what hon. Gentlemen expect to happen will, in the event, happen. I believe that we shall have to reintroduce more punishments. I believe that men who do wrong should be punished in varying degrees; and this tendency—
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West) rose—
§ Mr. Osborne
Will the hon. Gentleman please allow me to make my statement? This tendency to say that we should send these criminals to psychiatrists or do this, that or the other in varying kinds of crime is being carried much too far. Therefore, I support the Bill because I think it is a compromise. It is a half-way house. It is better than the Silverman Bill, because I believe that that went far too far. I believe that we who favour retention have sacrificed a good deal in this Bill, as much as hon. Members who are abolitionists feel that they too have sacrificed a good deal in which they believe.
No one could have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) without being deeply moved by his personal experiences and the beautiful language in which he put 528 his point of view, especially on the case of Sir Roger Casement. It could not leave any of us unmoved when lie talked about the spirit of that man being, as it were, merged with the beauty of the garden and the loveliness of the sunset; and on that he pleaded for all murderers.
But all men who are subject to capital punishment are not similar men to Sir Roger Casement; they are not similar characters and do not have similar backgrounds. For some of the foulest of foul murders which have been committed, capital punishment is, I think, amply justified. Therefore, to compare all murderers. however vile they may have been, with Casement is not an equal comparison. Neither do I accept that because it may have been that Casement was not properly treated the same justice should therefore be done to others.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
The hon. Member referred very feelingly to the fine speech delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway). Would the hon. Member like to face up to the challenge of my hon. Friend in asking who in this House would take on the duties of executioner? Would the hon. Member take them on?
§ Mr. Osborne
I am prepared to answer that, if the hon. Member will allow me to make my speech.
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough was himself a prisoner. I was never that, but for a number of years I was a regular prison visitor. There is a difference, I know, between the two—I could come out when I had done my work—but there is this much in common. I remember that the first time I went into a prison as a visitor to do my voluntary work, I wondered as the doors were locked behind me as I went in whether I would come out, and I was very relieved and grateful when they were opened for me as I came out.
This is what hon. Members opposite have to face over the challenge of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough. They say that they would abolish capital punishment and put in its place a life sentence —a real life sentence, not a phoney one but one that is for life. Would the hon. Member himself like to have a young man who has committed the crime of murder and himself have to inflict on that young 529 man, life imprisonment, remembering the moving terms used by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough about the staff officer who came and sobbed in his cell because after only three weeks the prisoner had revealed to that officer his very soul and he felt that he was his own son? How would the hon. Member feel if he had to look after a man, not for three weeks or three years, but for thirty years or sixty years? Would he like that job?
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
It seems to me to be an old-fashioned trick, when one cannot answer the question, to ask a series of other questions. Before I attempt to answer the hon. Member, will he answer my very simple question to him on the challenge by my hon. Friend to every Member of the House? Would hon. Members accept the responsibility of being executioners at any of these executions'? Will the hon. Member answer that?
§ Mr. Osborne
Of course I would not, and I say it frankly—but there are many jobs I would not care to accept. The hon. Member and his colleagues must face their alternative, the one they want to impose, for I have heard it said in this House time after time by hon. Members on both sides that the alternative to hanging was life imprisonment; and by "life" they have said not ten or fifteen years but for ever and ever.
§ Mr. Osborne
I have heard one hon. Member say that he would allow them to rot and rot and rot. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] An abolitionist. If hon. Members ask those of us who are retentionists whether we are prepared to carry out the policy we advocate, I ask them to look at the alternative and to answer that question for themselves.
There is no proof as to whether capital punishment acts as a deterrent, but I think that it does. Therefore, I am speaking for those who believe as I do and for the innocent people outside who have said to me, many times, that the abolitionists are much too bothered about the people who do wrong rather than about those who do right and get murdered. I find that a very difficult point to answer.
People have many times said to me, "Nobody seems to bother about us and 530 the risks that we run. You let these men come out loose and they may commit a second crime and I may be the victim. What protection do you give me? "And so it is because this is a half-way Measure, a compromise, a typical English compromise, that I support the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) made, I thought, a good speech in a difficult position in stating his case. He said—I want to put this to hon. Members opposite who take a different view from myself—that this was half-way to total abolition and he hoped that there would be another Bill later which would complete abolition. He spoke about the poisoner and the murderer after rape being excluded and said that experience would show that that type of murder would decrease in number and, therefore, justify the fact that capital punishment was not being applied in those two cases.
What I wanted to put to my hon. Friend had he still been present is this. Supposing experience shows, after the Bill has been passed, that those two awful types of murder increase, will he and the abolitionists agree to bring back capital punishment for those two cases? Are they prepared to do that? They ought to be, because my hon. Friend will claim the support of subsequent figures if they suit his case and it is fair for those of us who are retentionists to ask that hon. Members should face the possibility that they may be wrong. If experience proves that murder by poison and murder with rape increase, then in logic—and it was logic to which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) appealed—hon. Members should agree that capital punishment should be restored for those two cases.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
If the murder rate falls following the operation of the Bill when it becomes law, would the hon. Member be prepared to support abolition?
§ Mr. Osborne
If over a period it fell to such an extent that I thought it was conclusive, of course I would. Is that fair enough?
§ Mr. Osborne
Now, may I have the same from the leaders of the abolitionists? Will the hon. Member get up and give the same undertaking now?
§ Mr. Moyle
I say at once that, basing myself upon the evidence that is before me, provided by those appointed to examine it, the evidence is definitely in favour of abolition. My own personal experience of a murder trial strengthens my unqualified conviction that the sooner we get rid of the death penalty the better for us and for civilisation generally.
§ Mr. Osborne
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have a great regard for his character and his honesty. He has not answered my question. He has funked it. Will he please give me the same sort of straightforward answer as I gave to him? If the evidence in the next ten years is that there are more murders of the kind which are to be no longer punished by the death penalty, will he then vote for the reimposition of capital punishment?
§ Mr. Osborne
Then the abolitionists want it both ways. If the evidence suits them they will accept it and will bind me to accept it, but if the evidence subsequent to the passage of this Bill into law, if the evidence which is the result of this Bill's becoming law, does not prove their theories, they will close their minds to the evidence. That makes me all the more a retentionist. I am rather surprised at the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle). I thought he had more courage.
§ Mr. Hale
The hon. Member refused a few moments ago to give way to me, and yet he has frequently since then invited other people to interrupt him. Perhaps he will allow me to do so now. I hope to have the good fortune to catch the eye of the Chair later, and if I do I should like to deal with these remarks, and, therefore, I should like to understand them. I remember the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) as a highly respected local preacher. How are all those principles of the local preacher applied to this question, the principle of the doctrine of forgiveness, for instance? How does the hon. Member relate the concept of the Fatherhood of God to his talk about the lowest of the low and scum who have no hope of redemption? How does all that talk conform to the hon. Member's principles?
§ Mr. Osborne
HANSARD will record that I did not speak of the "lowest of the low" or that I used the expression "scum."
§ Mr. Osborne
I am saying that punishment must be imposed in certain circumstances for certain crimes: There can be no justice without ultimate punishment. That is perfectly true. I believe that deeply. I understand that hon. Gentlemen opposite feel just as deeply the other way and would like to abolish capital punishment.
§ Mr. Osborne
No. As a good democrat I am prepared to allow the majority of the people of the country to decide. In my opinion, the majority of the people of this country would retain capital punishment, and that is a fair justification in a free Parliament of my view.
Since I know that there are other hon. Members wishing to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I shall finish by saying that this Bill does not retain as much capital punishment as I should like, but that since it is a compromise and since both sides of the House will accept it, I shall support it tonight.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), and I hope that I shall be able to deal with the arguments he has submitted. and show how diametrically we are opposed to each other on this issue. I rise to support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman): a reasoned Amendment we call it. and I am quite sure that "reasoned" is the right description of it.
I am a completely unrepentant, fanatical abolitionist, and that is where the hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth and I are completely at difference. It has been written, I think by Mr. Christopher Hollis, who was a Member 533 of this House, that only nine people at present members of this House have consistently, on every occasion when the opportunity has presented itself, recorded their votes for abolition. We have done so certainly ever since 1948, when the Labour Government allowed a free vote in the House upon this question. This House then decided to abolish the death penalty. That decision was written into a Bill which went to another place and came back without that provision in it. Everybody was worried by the multitude of Amendments. There were so many that it was difficult to know what we were doing. The Government of the day—I say it to their shame, and to my own. since it was a Labour Government—employed the party vote again. In spite of that, some of us held on to our conviction that the death penalty should go, and we held on to it in every one of those Divisions.
We have held on to it ever since, throughout the debates and Divisions upon the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne to abolish the death penalty. We have held on to it until this moment. I think there are three of us who are sitting on this side of the House at the moment—certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) and I, and, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale).—[Interruption.] Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West was not one of us? There are only two of us in the House now of that honoured nine. I have no regret at standing here upon this issue at this moment. We nine loyalists have something to be proud of.
I see the hon. Member for Louth is looking at his watch. I know he wants his dinner very much—and I want mine. He need not stay to hear my reply to him. I shall not take it amiss if he goes away to dinner. I should not like him to starve.
I have been much concerned today by the speeches of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) and the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson). I do hope that when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Hyde) catches your eye, Sir, as I hope he will, he will not take the line of his two hon. Friends. With the deepest possible 534 respect and gratitude for the line those two hon. Members took during the passage of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne to abolish the death penalty, with thirty or forty other hon. Members on their side of the House, also, I must say that I think they are letting us down a little tonight. I feel they might have stood by the abolitionists in spite of the party Whips. 'They might have done so on an occasion like this. I could not help but feel that those two hon. Gentlemen trimmed their speeches tonight to support the Third Reading of the Bill.
It has been said, even amongst my hon. Friends, as it was by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth and those two other hon. Gentlemen opposite to whom I have referred, that the Bill is a corn-promise, that it is half a loaf, and that half a loaf is better than no bread. I do not agree at all. Let us consider some of the things the Bill will do when it becomes an Act, if it becomes an Act. After another place has finished with it I do not know what will become of it.
I wonder if the general public realise that the worst of the cold, calculating poisoners will not suffer the death penalty but that a woman like Ruth Ellis, who, in an impassioned moment, shot her lover, will suffer the death penalty. If we could go all the way to abolition for poisoners, why on earth could we not go all the way to abolition in such cases as the Ruth Ellis case?
In thinking about this half-loaf of a Bill I have grave fears. I feel, with many other hon. Members who have spoken today, that without this Bill and without the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Come the death penalty would have gone completely. I feel even now that there is a real chance that the last execution has taken place in this country. The last one was in August, 1955, and I feel that never again will the executioner be brought in. That certainly would be the position if the Bill did not become an Act of Parliament, even allowing for the fact that my hon. Friend's Bill did become an Act.
The danger that I see is that with the Bill as it stands, with the retention of capital punishment for certain murders, some day some Home Secretary—I do not think the present one—might see a case 535 of a murder which has been committed by one whom the hon. Member for Louth would call one of the "foulest of the foul." The Home Secretary might say, "This is a real bad lot. Let us show the people that the death penalty has not gone, and in the blessed name of deterrence hang him, I do not think that it would be the present Home Secretary who would do that, but goodness knows who one of his successors might be, and that line might be adopted. If it is, it will not be deterrence, it will be reprisal and retribution.
What of the half-loaf? In the course of the Amendment we on this side of the House refer to an affront to constitutional propriety. There has been a real affront The House in 1948 and again last Session carried through all its stages and through a Third Reading a Bill for complete abolition of the death penalty. I suggest that we are not using too strong words in the Amendment when we speak of an affront to constitutional propriety, particularly when we remember what the present Home Secretary said at the commencement of the debates on my hon. Friend's Bill and the assurances that he gave the House at that time.
Thus, it happens that the Government have ratted on the House, and again that is not too strong a word. They have taken much more notice of another place than of a free vote in the House of Commons. This House has been badly let down and what was a splendid thoroughbred, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, has turned out to be a shocking mongrel in the hands of the Government.
I am perturbed particularly about one aspect. The Bill makes it permissible to impose and carry out the death sentence on people aged 21. I was a member of the Standing Committee which discussed the Criminal Justice Act, 1938, at great length. We decided then that we would not even imprison people under 21, except in special circumstances which were laid down. It is a fact that, throughout the work of the courts, people of 21 and under, except for a few cases, are not sent to prison. Yet, by passing this Bill, we are now deciding that a boy can be hanged for the horrible crime that he has committed.
536 I wonder what the view of the House is on the whole question of redemption. The word has been used once or twice today by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). I am very concerned about that word. It is regarded in a different light by different Members. Some of us have very deep religious feelings. Others have a moral attitude to life that does not contain religious feelings. But there is just as much strength in that moral attitude as in the attitude of those of us who have deep religious feelings and, surely, in the minds of those people the word "redemption" is very important. It applies in particular to young people.
In effect, we are saying by passing the Bill that there is no hope for a boy of 19 because he has committed a heinous crime and that we hang him or give ourselves the power to hang him. It is shocking that in this civilised age the House can lend itself to that kind of thing. We still profess to be a Christian country. I would have said to the hon. Member for Louth, had he still been in the Chamber, that if he has strong religious views, as I know he has, he must believe that there is an opportunity and a hope even in the case of the "foulest of the foul." I say with the deepest respect that if the hon. Member were to read his New Testament more carefully I am quite sure that he would come down on our side.
During the very early stages of the debates last Session on the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, a letter appeared in the Manchester Guardian in support of abolition. There appeared at the end of the letter one or two short sentences which to my mind are the very essence of the case. The writer said,A man kills. It is a sin to kill. Therefore, the State kills.It is as simple as that to me. It is because I believe it as deeply as I can believe anything that I am a abolitionist. Because of that, and because I believe that by passing the Bill we shall at all events leave the opportunity for carrying out the death penalty, I support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
In many continental countries they have a system of what is called the explanation of vote. Fortunately we do not have it in this country, because it means that after the Division has taken place a large number of people make the speeches they would have made if they had caught your opposite number's eye, Sir, and they explain why they took the line they did. In spite of that, it has been interesting today to hear from a number of hon. Members why they have taken the line they have taken or why they are changing the line they had taken. In my case, as I have taken a great interest in this matter but not, I hope, spoken too much, and certainly having heard most of what has been said over the last two years, perhaps I may be allowed to say a word or two about how I see the matter.
I started with this conviction, which I have held always, that the State must retain to itself the ultimate power, the ultimate sanction of life and death. As I have said in this House previously, I feel that applies just as much to the law of murder as it does to war and peace. That is where I find myself differing fundamentally from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway). No one could help being deeply moved by his speech today and his account of his personal experience in connection with executions in prisons. We know, perfectly well, and it is a matter of great honour to the hon. Gentleman, why he has suffered in the way that he has.
The argument of the hon. Gentleman against the death penalty is exactly the same as it is in the case of war. Without the least disrespect to him, one must have a sense of proportion in these matters. Everyone in this country is allowed to hold pacifist views, and to have certain privileges if he holds them, but let us think for a moment what that implies. I served in the Royal Engineers in the First World War and I was in the front line. I heard the argument, "What a terrible thing. There is a fine young man, although he is a German, standing 200 yards away with the sun shining on his bare hair. What a terrible thing that anyone should be asked to shoot him."
That is perfectly true, but if everyone in the country took that view, where 538 would we be? Therefore, that is not a good argument. We are not a pacifist country. I do not believe that the country is prepared today—I see the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) laughing. I do not know why he thinks it is funny.
§ Sir L. Heald
The curious thing is that when some earnest people hear a contrary argument they think it can be treated with ridicule.
§ Mr. Royle
I am very sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks I was laughing at him. It would be the last thing I would think of doing. He has asked us the question, what would be the position if everybody had taken the line of not shooting? Obviously there would be no wars. Is that not a sensible answer?
§ Sir L. Heald
It would be a nice thing if all the people in one country took it and not in another.
§ Sir L. Heald
I intend to proceed with my argument, as other hon. Members have had ample opportunity to put theirs. I was saying that an argument according to the religious, sentimental or moral point of view it is called many things— is really not an argument that should be considered in the present context, since we are proceeding upon the basis that we will retain the death penalty. The argument we are concerned with is in what circumstances it should be retained, and it is not right that our attention should be diverted from that argument by one which submits that there should be nothing of the kind in any circumstances.
We started this controversy a long time ago now, as I have said, and I have maintained the view from the beginning that there must be retention. Yet I want to make it plain that I and a number of my hon. and learned Friends, friends outside the House as well as inside, and not in any way proceeding on party lines, approach the matter from this point of view—I should like hon. Members to realise it—from the point of view of reducing the number of cases in which the death penalty ought to be applied.
539 We said, rightly or wrongly, we thought we ought, so far as possible, to reduce the cases in which the death penalty was exacted to those in which there was a crime of the worst character. That is putting it in perfectly general language. It may be said that that creates a problem, but I mention it merely for the reason that we approach the matter not from the point of view of retention at all costs but from the point of view of reforming the law.
As the result of that, a pamphlet called "Murder" was brought forward with the idea of improving the law. It is a great satisfaction to know—I speak modestly because I was merely the Chairman—that the recommendations of that Committee are substantially Part I of the Bill. Our feeling was, and my feeling still is, that that was the right way to approach the matter.
Then the great controversies arose, and that aspect of the matter was submerged. Some hon. Members will remember that on the first occasion when we debated this matter that document, which very few people had read, was denounced in this House as being some sort of subterfuge to draw a red herring across the trail. Now that Part I of the Bill has been unanimously accepted, I hope we need not trouble ourselves with that any more.
Then the Government found themselves in great difficulty. I took the view—I take it again tonight, and that is why shall vote as I intend to—that it was the duty of the Government to make a decision as to what should be done.—I always took the view—I never concealed it—that it was wrong to have a free vote on the matter. I have taken the view, and I continue to take it, that in a matter of this kind it is the duty of the Government to decide what should be the law and what should be the penalty under the criminal law. That is a responsibility which should be abdicated to no one; it is the Government's duty to decide that. Indeed, the Government have now returned to that position and have proceeded to do so. That is a matter upon which I never changed my view.
That is equally the reason why, now that the Government have arrived at that decision, I consider that it is my duty, as a supporter of the Government, to accept the decision of the Government 540 which I have already stated it is their duty to make. However, that does not alter the fact that I believe that the Government have made a mistake about the point at which they drew the line. If one is to have anything other than complete retention or complete abolition, one must draw the line somewhere. Even if we have only Part I of the Bill, we are drawing the line at a point different from that at which it was previously drawn.
I think everyone will agree that there is nothing in logic which makes one introduce a provision with regard to provocation or with regard to constructive malice. It is not a question of logic; it is a question of decision. Any penalty, as to where it starts, where it stops and what it covers, must be a matter for the decision of the Government. The Government have made their decision, but it is a matter of opinion as to exactly where the line should be drawn.
I have taken the view—I take it again tonight, and I think it is my duty to say so—that drawing the line at such a point that murder by poisoning is excluded from capital murder, assuming that one is going to have capital murder, is wrong and indefensible. I still say that the Government should reconsider their position there. We heard the Home Secretary speak of a certain kind of lawlessness which aims at the very basis of civilisation or, as we call it, civilised life. I cannot accept the argument that the line of demarcation drawn in the Bill complies with that principle. I cannot see how it can be said to do so.
Tonight, however, we are not discussing whether or not poisoning should be included; we are discussing whether the Bill should be given a Third Reading. My belief is that, as it stood before the Bill was brought in, the area covered by capital punishment was too wide, and that it should be reduced. The Bill reduces it; it reduces it further than I think it should be reduced. I believe that a great deal of concern exists about the matter in the public mind, and it may be that there will be more. It takes time for public opinion to work up. My own experience is that the position is causing considerable concern.
It is a surprising fact that many people simply cannot believe it. In my own constituency I have had to assure people 541 at meetings that it really is true that under the Bill the death penalty is not being retained for poisoning. People have come up to me after meetings and said, "Are you quite sure that you are right?" The surprising thing is that it is the truth. I did my best to persuade the Government to see what I considered to be the light in this matter, but I failed. Some people have said, "Why did not you vote accordingly?" What would have been the good, in those circumstances? Some of us have to be realistic in this House. It was quite clear that, although many Members might not like it, the House as a whole had come to the conclusion that some line had to be drawn and that a compromise had to be arrived at. That is the way we must do our business in this House and in this country.
Those who have perfectly legitimate and honest conscientious scruples will naturally oppose any form of capital punishment, and rightly so. I cannot share the views of either my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) or the hon. Member for Salford, West, who were both described as fanatics—certainly the hon. Member for Salford, West so described himself. I am sorry that I was a little annoyed with the hon. Member for Salford, West earlier, but I am sure that he will appreciate that, although we have quite opposite views on this matter, if one has a serious point of view one wants to have an opportunity of developing it. I never mind the interruptions of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) because they always give me an opportunity of thinking of points which I might not have thought of otherwise.
This evening the Government have come to the point of deciding where the line should be drawn. They have drawn the line at the point provided in the Bill. I do not agree with that line, but that is no reason why I should vote against the Bill. 'What would be the position if I obeyed the exhortations made to me by certain hon. Members opposite to vote against the Bill? We should find ourselves back where we were, without even my recommendations in Part 1. Does anybody really suggest that I should vote against the Bill in those circumstances? I know that some hon. Members sometimes stand on their 542 heads, but I do not think that anybody need go so far as that in this case.
We must recognise that the Government have undertaken a terribly difficult task. I believe that the mistake they made was in not taking charge of this matter from the very beginning; deciding what their policy was, and saying that there must be no question of any free vote; that it was literally a matter of life and death and that in a matter of that kind the Government must take the decision. Unfortunately, it did not work out in that way.
It is the duty of Members to express their views and to do all they can to make the Government see sense, but if they cannot achieve this object they must do what they have very often had to do before, and will have to do on many occasions again, namely, to consider whether or not they are supporters of the Government and, if they are, to agree that they have no option but to support the Government. That is the practical approach to the matter.
I venture to think that an endeavour to resolve this question this evening on the basis of a general objection to capital punishment along the broader lines of the argument of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough will not provide a solution of our difficulties. We have to have a line drawn somewhere. This is the point where the Government have drawn it. Whether they will be able to maintain that decision remains to be seen; but at any rate, so far as we are concerned tonight, I cannot see how anyone is going to change his view or adopt any line other than that which I have tried to indicate to the House.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Sir Frederick Messer (Tottenham)
I have taken no part in any of the debates on this subject in this House on Second Reading or in Committee, but I feel that it would be wrong of me to vote tonight without explaining my position. I have not taken part in the debates because, during the 24 years that I have been a Member of this House, I have always made it part of my policy not to speak when others have said what I would have said and probably said it much better.
My position is one which is uncompromising. I cannot find any logic or reason or benefit in deciding that murder by one method justifies the death penalty 543 when murder by another method does not justify it. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) has himself proved how difficult it is to decide that there are certain types of murder which justify capital punishment and others which do not. His own Government say that there are certain types of murder which merit execution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not agree. He says that poisoning is such a terrible murder that it justifies execution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a distinguished lawyer, but frankly I cannot see how there is any reason or logic in an argument of that description.
There has been the question of execution being a deterrent, and there is one argument that I have waited to hear and have not yet heard. Are we sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who has had some experience of criminal cases, realises that there is what may be termed a criminal psychology? That criminal psychology is an attitude of mind which is not deterred by fear of punishment. The calculating mind which proceeds on its life of crime is not deterred by the knowledge that if he is caught he will be punished. The outlook of such people is very largely that they will benefit by the experience they have had and that this time they will not be caught.
One does not need to go into the more serious phases of crime. Any magistrate at petty sessions who has had many years on the bench and has seen the same people coming before him time after time realises that the sentence that such prisoners have already undergone has not deterred them, and the reason it has not is the conceit, the confidence and the belief of each individual that this time he will "get away with it." That is as true of murder as of anything else—including the poisoner who in calm and calculated study of the methods to be applied believes that he is so clever that this time it will be the type of crime which is not discovered.
I know that there are others in the House who are better equipped than I to deal with this problem—and it is a problem—and I shall not detain the House for long. However, there is another point which I should like remembered. There are those who claim that 544 what we have to do is to mete out justice, a life has been taken and a life must be sacrificed for it. That is not justice and, even if it were, surely we are not living in a period when we must apply justice. There have been religious arguments. The religion followed by the majority in this country has as its central theme not justice, but mercy. In this dispensation of grace, it is not an eye for an eye. It is the doctrine of the second time, "If thy neighbour offend thee, turn the other cheek".
Those who claim to be practising Christians should remember that if we did depend on justice many of us would suffer far greater sufferings than we do for what we have done.But mercy is above this sceptred sway.Mercy may be an ideal, but whether it is possible for us to dispense it or not, mercy rather than justice should be in our minds and in our hearts, for there are others who suffer.
It is not merely the one who has to pay the final penalty who alone suffers. I have been in court and seen a young man who has committed an offence against society standing in the dock, hearing the evidence against him. He has confessed. He has said, "Yes, I have done wrong and I must pay". He believes that in his willingness to suffer the penalty of the crime which he has committed he has expiated that crime. But I have seen in the back of the court the white-haired old mother whose heart is breaking because he is going to prison.
There are others who suffer. There are those who argue that because someone is the victim of a brutal crime they must think of the victim and not of the one who is guilty. But is the victim helped by taking life from the one responsible? If we hang the murderer we do not bring the victim back to life. What we do is add to the sum total of human misery and spread wider the circle of grief of those who are now additionally bereaved. It is because of these things—sentimental may be, others may consider them humanitarian—that I object to capital punishment.
Finally, even under this Bill there is the possibility of a mistake, of the taking of an irrevocable step, the taking of a life by society, that is, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, by you and me, a life surrendered which may not be guilty. If the 545 mistake is made and discovered, what then? We cannot do anything to correct that mistake. That is the one irrevocable step, and if for no other reason, that would induce me to vote for the Amendment. If killing is wrong, hanging for killing is equally wrong.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin (Belfast, West)
I shall not detain the House long, but I have listened to and read the report of every discussion which has taken place throughout the lengthy stages of this Bill, and tonight, when we hope it will receive a Third Reading, I feel that in sincerity I must make my position clear. Like one right hon. Gentleman who spoke recently. I feel very strongly that poisoners should have been included in the capital murder Clause. On the other hand, if they are not to he included, because of many obvious difficulties which have been fully discussed, then at least some measure of protection is to be given to members of our society who are entitled to it—I refer particularly to our police and prison officials.
I spoke to a wife of a prison officer of many years' service, who told me that if she had to live those years over again she would prefer that her husband swept the streets all the days of his life rather than undertake that job. If it be so difficult to look after men serving a comparatively short sentence for the commission of a lesser crime than murder, how much more difficult is it for those officials who have to look after men who have committed the ultimate in crime and have been sentenced to be locked up, if not for life, at least for a long term of years? It is difficult at present to staff our prisons properly. I believe it will become increasingly difficult if we are to have more long-term prisoners serving sentences for murder, which is what will happen if this Bill in its present form goes through; or what would be even worse, if it did not go through and we were then committed to start again on the Abolition Bill. Then, without doubt, we should find the difficulties greatly increased.
Everything has been said which can be said by hon. and learned Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and now we have come practically to the end of this stage of the Bill's progress. It cannot be emphasised too clearly that we have allowed 546 a certain amount of moderation to creep into this Measure, which goes beyond what I should like to see. This Bill contains provisions relating to people who commit murder to be known as capital murder which are too lengthy to enumerate in detail. It will give a measure of security to those people who protect the public and who, to our great pleasure and satisfaction, go about the country unarmed. I hope that they will continue to do so. There will continue to be some protection for them against those who are wicked and determined, and anxious to commit crime, and, if necessary, to kill in order to ensure that they are not punished. We must make certain that the protectors of the public continue to have what many of us believe to be the only measure of protection which we can give to them.
When this Bill, and the Amendment to it, is voted on, I hope that the Amendment will be defeated and that the Bill will receive a Third Reading. I hope that in due course the Bill will be placed on the Statute Book and help to bring up to date the law on murder which, without doubt, needs amending and modernising.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I was very glad when the hon. Lady the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) stated so clearly in her speech her desire that the Bill should go through, because it enabled me to see at long last which side she was on, as the whole of her speech up to then had been against the Bill, against moderation and about the retention of capital punishment.
Some very able speeches have been made in the course of the afternoon, I understand, and I should like most sincerely to apologise for being absent part of the time. As hon. Members know, people complain more of my presence than of my absence and, therefore, I advance that as a mitigating circumstance for my absence.
In the course of the last few hours we have had a series of philosophical dispositions of some importance, all of which I should have liked, if I were competent and had the time to do so, humbly to have tried to examine. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) took us back to Burke with his discussions about the duties of 547 Members of Parliament in relation to their constituents. He did not say anything with which I disagreed, and he did not say anything about which I have any desire to make any very strong comment. But for a man of great ability and sincerity whom we like and admire, I do not think, perhaps, he tackled the subject with the enthusiasm which I should have wished to see. Therefore, I will put my point of view.
It is the duty of a Member of Parliament to say what he believes. Under the present system of party Whips it is a duty which it is sometimes very difficult to carry out, but, none the less, it is the duty of a Member of Parliament. It is my duty to acquaint myself with public opinion, to try to listen to and understand the views of abler people than myself in my constituency who have a point of view; but, in the end, the decision is mine. This House is a weaker place so long as there are so many restrictions on the expression of opinion.
That brings me to the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) who. I thought, was just nodding his head with approval, and yet who, only a few moments ago, was saying that, on the whole, he regretted free votes on an issue of this kind. I say that in 90 per cent. of its debates the House ought to vote freely. I think that we vote ten times as many times as we need to and that the House wishes that one day we shall reach the stage when every vote, except on a special reason of the Government, might be subject to a free decision. People come to this House with firm opinions on many subjects, and this attempt to control from little rooms without is the sort of system which we hope gradually to see weaken and disappear.
The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) introduced some further philosophical reflections, and in case he returns to the Chamber, and as I prefer to make my observations when he is present, I will, with the leave of the House, postpone them for a moment.
1 thought that the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey was a little less felicitous than he usually is in his speeches, to which we often listen with sympathy and admiration. He talked about the last war as a curious example of the theory of homicide. I was a lad 548 when the last war started—[HON. MEMBERS: "The First World War."]—I mean the 1914–1918 war. I was still said to be a bit of a lad when the second war started. I was a lad in 1914, and many of my older friends perished, and I should be the last to say anything that reflected on what they did. But when the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in the light of what is now happening to a defeated Germany, asked what would have happened if these great battles had not taken place, the plain answer is that 10 million decent people who died would still be alive and Income Tax would be 1s. in the £.
§ Sir L. Heald
The hon. Member knows that that is not the argument at all, but he is always entitled to his little bit of fun.
§ Mr. Hale
I have no desire to misrepresent the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but the argument which we could draw from that war—and an important argument—is that a lot of young lads were taken behind the scenes and quietly shot because they were suffering from neurasthenia. In the Second World War, we called it neurasthenia and they were sent home for treatment. These were decent chaps who broke down under an intolerable strain. Those who took part in the First World War—and the right hon. and learned Gentleman was there and I was not, and it is not for me to correct him—know that it was an intolerable strain which broke down very fine people, often quite temporarily.
That brings me, if I may, to the remarks made by the Home Secretary. I do not want to say even one critical word about the conduct of the Home Secretary and the Joint Under-Secretary of State. They took over this extremely difficult Measure half-way through. They took it over in an exceedingly unhappy situation. They took it over when a great deal of oratorical water had passed under the bridge and when, for good or ill, it would undoubtedly continue much in one direction. The right hon. Gentleman brought at least a note of clarity to the proceedings, for he explained what the Bill meant and why the Government had introduced it in a way that I myself had not heard before. The Under-Secretary, whom we congratulate sincerely on his appointment, because of his interest in these matters—it is a very good thing that one who has 549 taken such an interest should be in his office—has endeavoured to explain the inexplicable with industry and courtesy and he has endeavoured to do it, as far as can be, to the satisfaction of the House.
Sometimes, on a more difficult Clause, we have seen them both on their feet together, perhaps just a little flurried. I observed with pleasure the right hon. Gentleman's name on the introduction to a catalogue of pictures to be in the Tate Gallery next week. I am referring to what I am told is a very great picture indeed when I say that they looked, when they were on their feet together, so defenceless and unprotected, rather like Picasso's famous picture of the two nudes.
It is a curiosity of our situation that the attitude of hon. Members on both sides has been a little ambivalent. Hon. Member after hon. Member has risen on the other side of the House and said, "I am a retentionist. I do not want to see any reduction in the penalty. But I will vote for the Bill because it is halfway." Hon. Members on this side of the House have risen and said, "We are in favour of abolition and we admit that the Bill takes us a step or two forward, but we are contemplating the possibility, if we do not get a satisfactory reply from the Under-Secretary of State tonight, of voting on a reasoned Amendment for the rejection of the Bill".
I do not find that situation very conflicting or very difficult. I believe that the Bill contains some very good things, and we hesitated before we took the step of putting down the Amendment. There are, however, two or three reasons for it which perhaps I might be allowed to call to the attention of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) made what I thought was a slightly ungenerous reference to the con-consistency of hon. Members. I should like to recall to the attention of the House what happened. When this matter was raised in 1948, it was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), by some ingenuity on his part, in a new Clause to a Bill on penal reform—the Criminal Justice Bill. The Bill went to another place and came back with our new Clause, which had been carried here on a free vote, mutilated. It was returned to another place and then returned again to us.
550 We were confronted by the powers-that-be with this argument: "We shall lose a vital measure of penal reform." In many of its provisions I personally had had a very long interest. "If we submit to the action of another place, we shall forfeit the whole Bill. Let us therefore emasculate this Measure and send it back to another place without the offending Clause which abolishes the death penalty. We will appoint a Royal Commission which will consider the whole question of capital punishment." On that argument, after much controversy, and with deep distaste and some reluctance, some of us agreed to accept that course.
There was an argument with my hon. Friend, whose courage and sincerity I admire, as to what was the right course. I would not now say what was the right course. I would even say that we did not get the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment that we were promised. I told the then Prime Minister on the Floor of this House at the time that it was a betrayal of the undertakings which we have been given. I still say that. But even though that Royal Commission was not even empowered to deal with abolition, we all got what was virtually a verdict in favour of it in a brilliant book written afterwards by the Chairman of the Commission, in which he expounded the views which he had acquired in considering the evidence given.
Therefore, we have a right to feel bitter, when promised facilities for my hon. Friend's Private Member's Bill, when it was mutilated again in another place. As my hon. Friend said this afternoon, the issue now raises a question, and postulates it in quite clear form. In 1948, the whole of the proposals that are now going to another place were desiccated there, were attacked, reviled and criticised by no less a person than the Lord Chief Justice in forcible, able, and almost embittered terms.
What now is the position? Is this Bill to go there, and is there to be a little private flash—I think that is now the word for these dramatic announcements is there to be a little private flash from the Front Bench to the Front Bench there, giving it the all-clear? If that be so, then, anxious though I am to speak of one of the three estates of the realm with every possible respect and in Parliamentary language, it is really a public 551 declaration that another place has constituted itself a small branch of the Conservative Party. It really is. [An HON. MEMBER: "A large branch."] It would be a large branch if it ever met. Last week there were present only 48 out of 1,100.
That is one difficulty. The second difficulty that I would put to the House is this. There are times when one approaches the legislative crossroads; when one comes to what O'Henry called the roads of destiny. Ahead is one course going straight to the future—straight ahead; one course which one might wish to follow. But that road is, apparently, permanently blocked. There are other roads leading into the distance—some over the hills, some into the morass, some into the fens; wandering in various directions. Is it wiser to seek the unknown? Is it wiser to take the uncharted paths in the hope that they will lead in the right direction? Or is it wiser to wait a little, when there is a fair certitude that the obstructions on the straight road will be cleared in a comparatively limited period?
That is the other part of the dilemma confronting us and, on the whole, we have come to the conclusion that, in circumstances in which the Government, after seven days of discussion, have refused to alter a word or a comma of a Clause in response to a great deal of constructive criticism, we are bound to put down this reasoned Amendment and consider the possibility of implementing it by vote.
The right hon. Gentleman in his observations this afternoon referred to the unexplored recesses of the mind. I was glad to hear that. I hope that he, with his great ability, is to give attention to this frightfully difficult matter, because I believe that we are on the verge of experiments in this direction of real significance. None of us, I think, would be tempted at this moment to regard the infant science of psychiatry as approaching the bounds of an exact science. But some things we can say. Some things we do know.
In recent years very great progress has been made in this exploration of the recesses of the mind. If hon. Members promise not to get up and accuse me of breach of Privilege I will say that there is no more fertile place for the study of 552 the mind than here and no field in which the conditioned reflex makes itself from time to time more clearly apparent. We are making progress. We know now of some of the things which are being done, and publicity was given to some of it last week. We hear of some of the great experiments which are being conducted. I believe, under the joint auspices of the Home Office and the Ministry of Labour at Belmont. Some of the experiments which are taking place in Her Majesty's prisons are great experiments which may very well bring us substantially along the road.
I myself have no illusions about criminals. I spent my life among them, until I came here.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—It was only an afterthought that made it obviously incumbent upon me to add those necessary words. On the whole, I used to like them. There were some who came there through misfortune. There were some who came quite deliberately because they thought the jam was worth the powder. There were some criminals who had become so quite deliberately because. on the whole, the life appealed to them, the old possibilities of adventure appealed to them, giving a sense of freedom from industrial towns.
There are other criminals, and they are the problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Sir F. Messer) has reminded us of them tonight. I wish my hon. Friend would speak more often; he always rises diffidently, but one always listens to him with pleasure. He mentioned the lad who had committed a sin against society. We ought to remember the lads against whom society has committed a sin, and very often they are the same lads. When we talk about crime, let us remember that there are conditions which bring about crime. Let us remember, when we are talking about the possibility of hanging lads of twenty or so, that we are talking about the lads who were running wild on empty bombed sites while their mothers were in the factory and their fathers were in the Army during the years of war. These are the things which bring about that possible state of mind which, for want of a better term, we call an inherent hatred against society.
If I say one serious word tonight, I would with all the sincerity I can command say to the right hon. Gentleman 553 that when he conies to the exploration of the innermost recesses of the mind, when he tries to consider, as I hope and, indeed, I know he will—we shall watch all these things with hope and sympathy—let him not forget that perhaps the most important factor in our penal system today is that it is in the very exercise of punishment and in the method by which it is imposed that we so often bruise the mind and turn a man to crime.
I do not believe that anyone who has made a study of our penal system would talk of it as reformatory. It never has been. It may be that the fear of punishment prevents some people from committing crime. We must endeavour to eliminate from our present system those elements which involve human degradation. We must try and have a system in which, if we are treating people, we treat them as individuals, complex, difficult, mentally sickly, retarded, diverse individuals. As I say, I am happy to know that some of the investigations and experiments now taking place are giving a little hope that these things will come. If the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends embark upon them with the sincerity and ability we know that they possess, they will do a great service to the community.
We have heard them speak about the curative effect of long sentences. Long sentences are very expensive things to inflict. It is a fact at this moment that our prisons are full because of long sentences. It is a fact that the very long sentences that were given meant overcrowded prisons, unhealthy prisons, people living far too many in a cell, in prisons unfit to accommodate them, and people living for very long periods at the public expense. The disposition of Her Majesty's judges over recent years to "hot up" the sentences has certainly "hotted up" the cost to the community without, so far as I have been able to see, any compensating advantage.
In my references to previous speakers, I said that I hoped the hon. Member for Louth would return because I wanted, in humility and in sincerity, to say one or two words in reply to what he said. I have never thought myself competent to talk very much about morals. I said that I had lived my life amongst criminals. No one can say more readily than I that, "There, but for the grace of 554 God—and a good deal of luck—go and I," have never really seen a man whom I considered to be worse than myself.
I raise these observations by the hon. Member only because I have known him personally as a man of high reputation and I know, therefore, that any question I raise will not be interpreted as an attack upon him. But I do not understand his theory and I beg him to explain it. The first thing that one always gets in these arguments is the talk about taking a realistic attitude. But the founder of Christianity never talked about realism. He did not attack emotion. Christianity is emotion. Christianity consists in a belief in forgiveness, in love, in kindness and, above all, in tolerance. The hon. Lady the Member for Belfast, West talked about moderation creeping in and I felt that the expression came very well from across the Irish Sea.
Surely, one of the great virtues nowadays is that whereas we used to regard tolerance as a vice, we now regard it as a virtue. Why do we decry emotion in this House? Why should we not preach the doctrine of love? Why should we not talk about understanding'? If we believe in the Fatherhood of God, why should we not believe in the Brotherhood of Man? Why should we not say of a man, not that he is the foulest of the foul, but "You have fallen from grace. Perhaps it is my fault, and it is my duty to try to help you on your way"?
I am sorry to talk like this, because I know I am very much of a sinner. I know I am the last person to put forward any doctrines. I do it only because I do not understand what the hon. Member for Louth said and, respecting him as I do, I should like to know why he preaches so much from the Old Testament and not from the New Testament. A great lawyer, Sir Eardley Wilmot, was once asked to advise and his client said, "This was a serious injury. Would it not be manly to resent it?" "Yes", said Sir Eardley, "of course it would be manly to resent it, but it would be divine to forgive it." Surely, there is some truth in that.
On this theory of redemption, a great divine once said, "This man is not fit to live," and a still greater divine said, "If he is not fit to live, he is not fit to die." Is that not true'? Should it not be our 555 duty as Christians at least to afford an opportunity for redemption?
I was moved by my hon. Friend when he talked about redemption. I was moved by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) when he recalled the famous case of an execution that took place in time of war, which, perhaps, many of us recollect. I do not know whether Roger Casement was guilty of treason. There was a good deal of legal argument. I do not know whether a separatist Irishman can be guilty of treason against a Government in England and I certainly do not know, or care, whether he was a homosexual. I should like to know whether faked diaries were used to assist the execution.
Thinking of Roger Casement. I hope hon. Members will recall that great man who explored the Congo, who exposed the atrocities in the Putumayo, who preached there the doctrine of tolerance and consideration and did more than most men to abolish cruelty from the world. That is how we should remember him. That is how we should try to remember so many of our brothers when they are in difficulty, because this is part of our fundamental and basic approach.
I have never tried to decry people who disagree with us about this matter. I have never thought their disagreement a sign of a reactionary mind. Indeed, I can, I hope, understand and tolerate reaction rather more than I understand and tolerate compromise. In our debate in 1948 upon the abolition of capital punishment I told to the House a story with which I should like to conclude, because we have been talking about Roger Casement, and in talking about him we are talking about the possibility of political assassination, and the minds of most of us are ambivalent on the question of political assassination. Most of us would argue that the end can never justify the means, but few of us can read the stories of the historic and tragic events in Russia without a reluctant admiration and without a little sympathy for Sofia Petrovskaya, and without feeling that this was, on the whole, a great and noble woman.
I would here interpose a brief remark upon one curious and controversial 556 example and proof of this ambivalent attitude to which we are subject. We have just appointed a new commander of our forces in Germany. I do not wish to criticise him on the ground of anything recalling the horrors of the past, and I can only believe that the justification of the appointment is the hope that it will achieve something for the future, but what I find difficult to understand in the mouths of hon. Members who support the Bill, and in the papers which defend this attitude, is the curious argument that we can rely on his future loyalty because he attempted to murder his previous boss. That seems to me to indicate that there might be a little reconsideration before we state our views as being completely final.
I said I would recall a story I told in 1948. It is the story of a crime that shocked London, shocked England, and probably shocked most of the civilised world, the story of the Phoenix Park murders, the murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Burke, murdered by Irishmen, who, presumably, felt that they might be serving their country by this method, but who did more harm to the cause of Anglo-Trish understanding than almost any action which has taken place. It was an unreasonable action because they were attacking pretty good friends.
A number of the attackers paid the penalty on the scaffold. The story which I told is still little known. It is that the men who were hanged were ministered to in prison by a nun, who was the sister of one of the murdered men sister, too, in the theological sense to the condemned, one of whom took to the scaffold with him an ivory crucifix sent to him by Lady Frederick Cavendish, the widow of the murdered man.
If we are to hope to bring about in a world tortured by antagonisms and hatreds some hope of regeneration, some hope of a new approach, some hope of a world in which tolerance will make itself felt and understanding can be found and brotherhood may have its play, let us start in simple ways like this. Let us start by saying this is our approach. And let the hon. Member for Louth chuck the Old Testament out of the window and sit down and read the New. Perhaps he and I, with our divergent approaches, may find a clearer understanding of some of these fundamentals in that process.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)
We have reached tonight a late stage of this protracted controversy which has aroused deep and sincere passion on both sides. It may be true, as many hon. Members have said today, that every argument has been exhausted, but that is certainly not true of the hon. Members who have intervened in the debate. Perhaps it would be invidious to single out any particular hon. Member when so many have made contributions, but I hope that it will not be thought lacking in respect if I say that nobody who has attended these debates throughout would not desire to pay a special tribute to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and the hon. Member for Oldham. West (Mr. Hale) on their eloquence, their Parliamentary skill and their unfailing fertility of argument.
The Amendment refers to constitutional propriety. I do not want to go over the old history of this matter. The House will recollect the considered view of the Government from the beginning—the constitutional organ charged with the maintenance of public order, a duty of which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) said, they cannot divest themselves. Their view was that the death penalty was necessary for the maintenance of public order.
I need not recall the proceedings in the Chamber last Session, and we should not forget that it is by the will of a modern Parliament, dominated by the party of hon. Members opposite, that the other place retains a constitutional right to reject a Bill of this sort—and that involves a duty on its part to do so when conscience so directs. But where constitutional propriety is in question, there is another matter, besides the views of the two Houses of Parliament, which should be considered. It is the right of the public to be heard on a matter which has been freely canvassed before them and on which there has been ample time to form a view.
I know that subjective judgment in these matters should be treated with caution, and I certainly do not place any undue confidence in my own on matters where I feel strongly. But I have done my best to test public opinion fairly in all sections of my own indus- 558 trial constituency, and I must say that I found almost unanimous support for the retention of the death penalty, not least strongly among the political supporters of the party opposite. But that is a subjective judgment. There are more objective tests and one can examine what they show.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that most people revolt from the death penalty. That was not the result that was obtained from the public opinion test, the Gallup Poll conducted by the newspaper which supports his party. At the end of last year, the News Chronicle held a Gallup Poll on this very matter. It showed that 57 per cent. of all voters wished to keep hanging for certain cases, including a majority of Labour and Liberal voters tested. No less than a quarter wished to keep the law as it then was in all its rigour. Only 13 per cent. wished to see hanging completely abolished. Incidentally, over twice as many approved as disapproved of this very Bill, and the proportion was much the same in all parties.
This is a sphere where public opinion is particularly entitled to be weighed. It is, after all, for the protection of the community that a penal code is enacted, and I do not think any hon. Gentleman will deny that there must be a reasonable relationship between the penal code and public opinion in the community. I think it was an hon. Gentleman opposite who said today that the State is in danger where the law becomes considerably out of touch with public sympathy. That is equally so where the law is too harsh or where it is too lenient.
That is not to say that it is not often the duty of Parliament and the House of Commons to lead public opinion. Of course it is. Where, however, over a considerable period of time an issue has been debated before the people of this country, and where it is a matter on which they are particularly entitled to have their wishes consulted, and where the wishes of the overwhelming mass have been made plain, then it is in the fullest accord with constitutional propriety that the Government and the House of Commons should frame their Measures to take reasonable cognisance of that opinion. It is in that spirit that this Bill has been framed.
559 The main purpose of Part I of the Bill has received, I think, the unanimous assent of this House. So far as constructive malice and suicide pacts are concerned, the Bill goes further in mitigation of the severity of the existing law than the Royal Commission itself recommended. It is Clause 2 which makes what will probably, in the result, be the greatest change in the law, because it introduces into the law of England the defence of diminished responsibility which has been found to work so satisfactorily in Scotland.
Now the Royal Commission did not recommend that reform, but in this House —at any rate on this Bill—it has received universal approbation. I feel that a tribute is due in particular to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) and to my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) as being mainly instrumental in bringing about this reform.
It removes from liability to the supreme penal sanction a number of people who, in the past, would have been reprieved but who would have had to endure the ordeal of conviction of murder and sentence of death. And, as such, it goes a long way to meet what the members of the Royal Commission made their first ground of criticism of the law—the first recommendation they made—namely, its rigidity, the fact that it provides a single punishment for a crime widely varying in culpability. Secondly, by that reform we have removed from liability to the death penalty a great group of those on whom the deterrent effect was more likely to be, in the words of the Royal Commission, "limited and often negligible".
Thirdly, we have provided a criterion which takes cognisance of the fact that there are, humanly speaking, many degrees of mental responsibility for crime. Up till now the only legal criterion of mental responsibility for crime was provided by the M'Naghten Rules, and unless that rigorous test was satisfied, the death sentence was passed. The Home Secretary, in deciding whether to recommend that the sentence should stand, applied a different test and one not prescribed by the law. In going far to reconcile that divergence, it seems to me that this Bill is again in the highest degree in accord with constitutional propriety.
560 My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) asked a number of interesting questions arising out of the relationship between the defence of insanity and the defence of diminished responsibility. The hon. Member for Oldham, West took up the phrase—it has frequently been commented on—of my right hon. Friend relating to the unexplored recesses of the mind. The hon. Member for Oldham, West went as far as to suggest that all of us in this Chamber were psychopaths. I do not think he specified which of us were aggressive psychopaths and which inadequate psychopaths. Undoubtedly, there is great public interest in the impact of the new science of psychiatry on penal problems. That is a matter in which my right hon. Friend had already taken great interest before he assumed his present office.
Arising out of what my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham asked me, as I understand it, the relationship between the two defences is this. The accused man may, on the face of it, be unfit to plead. That is generally a matter which is initially determined by the prosecution, although it may be raised by the defence, and a jury is then empanelled to decide whether the man is fit or unfit to plead. It is only if the man is fit to plead that any question of these defences arises, and then it is a matter for the man. The prosecution cannot raise any question at that stage as to his mental responsibility for the crime. It is for him to say whether he will raise a defence which will lead to a verdict of "Guilty but insane" —a sort of verbal shorthand—or whether he will raise the sort of defence which will lead to a verdict of "Manslaughter" by raising a question of diminished responsibility. The one is under the M'Naghten Rules. It is a complete defence, and the verdict is "Guilty but insane", which is equivalent to "Not guilty." The diminished responsibility defence will lead to a verdict of "Guilty" but "Guilty of manslaughter".
My hon. Friend then asked how the man will be treated. He asked whether he will be sentenced to a fixed term. That does not necessarily follow at all. It is entirely a matter for the judge's discretion, on the evidence that is then given to him after the verdict, as to whether he passes 561 a sentence for life if he cannot determine the time necessary successfully to treat the prisoner. He can sentence the convicted man to a term of years. Equally, he can, if he wishes, put him on probation for the crime of manslaughter, and he can make a condition of the probation in a proper case that the man should submit himself to psychiatric treatment, or, indeed, any other medical treatment for a suitable time.
So much for Part I of the Bill. I need not say very much about Part III, because that, again, has, I think, received universal assent. It makes a number of very useful reforms in the mode of execution of the capital sentence where that is to be carried out.
I turn now to the Part II of the Bill, to which criticism has been mainly directed. I would emphasise that the main effect of this part of the Bill is the same as that of Part which is to exclude from liability to the death penalty many homicides which are at present liable. Naturally, attention from the retentionist side has been mainly directed to Clauses 5 and 6, but the main purpose of Part II of the Bill is Clause 7, which excludes from liability many homicides which are at present liable to the death penalty.
The criticism has come from two quarters—those who hold that the Bill should not retain the death penalty for the classes of murder set out in Clauses 5 and 6 and, on the other hand, those who hold that there are other classes which should be included. In framing this part of the Bill, as in the case of the rest of it, the Government have sought to reconcile and give proper weight, first, to the views of the general public; secondly, to the feeling in the House of Commons and, thirdly, to their own conviction—as the constitutional organ charged with the maintenance of law and order—as to what was necessary for that purpose. The Government have sought to reconcile those three matters in Part II.
The principle underlying this part of the Bill is that the death penalty should be retained, first, for those murders which impinge particularly upon the maintenance of public order and, secondly—and this to some extent overlaps the first consideration—where the deterrent effect of the death penalty is likely to be particularly effective. I will deal with the first consideration—the maintenance of 562 public order. Of course, in a sense every crime is a breach of public order, but it is obvious that some crimes strike with particular force against the Queen's Peace, and are especially and violently subversive of the ordered government of this realm. Treason is an example.
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) mentioned the Casement execution. That was for treason; not murder. Even if the Bill presented in the last Session by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) had been passed that crime would still have attracted the death penalty. I imagine that the reason why the hon. Member made that exception was that the overwhelming view of the House was that treason should continue to attract the capital penalty.
§ Mr. S. Silverman indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Silverman
The reason why I confined my Bill to murder—as the Government's Bill is confined to murder—was that that is a recognised department of penology. Treason is a department of politics.
§ Mr. Simon
The death penalty is preserved under the Bill not only for treason but for those murders which trench particularly upon the maintenance of public order and menace those whom society has constituted the guardians of its security, and who are therefore specially vulnerable to assault and savagery on the part of those who set their hands against the law. The types of murder which are preserved for the death penalty, therefore, are those which particularly affect the maintenance of public order and the safety of those whom we have established to maintain the security of the community.
But there is also the question of deterrents. That is a matter which we have 563 discussed many times in these debates and I do not propose to weary the House by going over the arguments again. I should like to remind the House, however, of what the Royal Commission said about this matter. It did not say—as has sometimes been claimed in our debates—that the death penalty was no deterrent, or no unique deterrent. What it did say was, first, that the statistical evidence was inconclusive and, secondly, that the deterrent effect did not operate universally or uniformly; that there are many offenders upon whom the effect is limited and often negligible. As for that latter class, we believe that this Bill has eliminated most of them by Clause 2. It was that factor which led to the exclusion from Clause 5 of those who commit murder in the course of rape where, in the nature of things, the deterrent element is not likely to be pronounced. But the conclusion of the Royal Commission was this:Prima facie the penalty of death is likely to have a stronger effect as a deterrent to normal human beings than any other form of punishment. There is evidence … that this is in fact so.Earlier the Royal Commission said:It seems to us inherently probable that if capital punishment has any unique effect as a deterrent, it is here"—and when it said "here" it was dealing with the effect of capital punishment on professional criminals—that its effect would be chiefly felt and here that its value to the community would be greatest.The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said that the argument against the capital sentence as a deterrent was disproved by the fact that the number of murders had diminished since the House debated this last February, and that was echoed by two other hon. Members. In point of fact, that is not so. Statistical evidence in these matters is inconclusive, so I do not want to put too much weight on this, but in fact the numbers have not gone down; they have gone up. The figures for the ten months from February last year, when the hon. Gentleman's Motion was carried or, rather, when the Government's Motion was defeated, and for the twelve months of the year, showed an increase in the number of murders known to the police over any year since 1952. That does not prove—and I should emphasise this— 564 that the abolition or rather absence of the death penalty has led to an increase in the number of murders.
In the first place, there are many factors which affect homicide rates, and it is impossible to isolate any one of them. The Royal Commission itself pointed that out in paragraph 23 on page 340. Secondly, in any event, the period is too short for any proper test to be made and, thirdly, we cannot know at what point potential murderers concluded, if they have concluded, that they no longer risked hanging. At any rate, it is quite wrong to say that we can prove that capital punishment is no deterrent because the number of murders has diminished since last February; on the contrary, for what it is worth, they have increased.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The only figures that the Home Office have so far given are the figures for the first three months of that period, and the Home Office figures show a very substantial reduction below the average over the past five years.
§ Mr. Benson
The question of the number of murders is not really relevant. What is relevant is the number of murderers. We get the case where a man wipes out his whole family. The number of murders is always very much greater than the number of murderers. That is the important point.
§ Mr. Simon
I will answer the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) first. It is quite true that what we must do is to compare like with like, and what I have done is to compare the number of murders known to the police this year with previous years. In other words, I am comparing like with like.
With regard to the point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne, he is perfectly right, and I am not blaming in any way the hon. Lady, but I took the precaution of getting out the latest figures, which I can give her afterwards, and they bear out what I have said. The statistics are inconclusive, and we should not place too much reliance on them.
That is the justification of Clauses 5 and 6, firstly, that this is the field of public order in which we are operating, secondly, that the penalty of death is likely to have a stronger effect here than any other form of punishment, and, 565 thirdly, it is here, as the Royal Commission said, that its effect would be chiefly felt and its value to the community would be greatest.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
Can the hon. and learned Member tell us why in the Government's view the fear of hanging is more likely to deter a man from shooting his wife than from strangling her?
§ Mr. Simon
I do not think that that is so. The crime of shooting particularly impinges on public order more than some other forms and is dangerous not only to the person who is shot at but to bystanders. That happens very frequently. In the Ruth Ellis case, a perfectly innocent bystander was wounded and might well have been killed. It is really aimed
§ at discouraging the professional criminal from carrying arms.
§ I ask the House not to concentrate entirely on Clauses 5 and 6 but to look at the Measure as a whole. If it is looked at as a whole, I unhesitatingly commend it to the House as an important Measure of penal reform, a solution which is in accord with public opinion in the country, a provision which preserves capital punishment only where is is particularly likely to act as a deterrent and a necessary deterrent, and, finally, a Measure which can properly bring this painful and protracted controversy to an end.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 217, Noes 131.567
|Division No. 55.]||AYES||[9.58 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Dance, J. C. G.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)|
|Aitken, W. T.||Davidson, Viscountess||Keegan, D.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Kerby, Capt. H. B.|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Doughty, C. J. A.||Kerr, H. W.|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||du Cann, E. D. L.||Kimball, M.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Kirk, P. M.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Lambert, Hon. G.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Errington, Sir Eric||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Ashton, H.||Fell, A.||Leather, E. H. C.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Finlay, Graeme||Leavey, J. A.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Fisher, Nigel||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Baldock, Lt. -Cmdr. J. M.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)|
|Barber, Anthony||Freeth, D. K.||Linstead, Sir H. N.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Calbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Barter, John||Carner-Evans, E. H.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Beamish, Maj, Tufton||George, J. C. (Pollok)||Longden, Gilbert|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Gibson-Watt, D.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Glover, D.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Godber, J. B.||Macdonald, Sir Peter|
|Bennett, Dr, Reginald||Gomme-Duncan, Col, Sir Alan||Mackeson, Brig, Sir Harry|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Gower, H. R.||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Graham, Sir Fergus||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Grant, W. (Woodside)||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold(Bromley)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Green, A.||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)|
|Body, R. F.||Gresham Cooke, R.||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Gurden, Harold||Maddan, Martin|
|Boyd, T. C.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Braine, B. R.||Harrison, Col, J, H. (Eye)||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Maoolesfd)||Marshall, Douglas|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt. -Col. W. H.||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Mathew, R.|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Llonel||Maude, Angus|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Mawby, R. L.|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Maydon, Lt. -Comdr. S. L. C.|
|Bryan, P.||Hesketh, R. F.||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Carr, Robert||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Channon, Sir Henry||Hornby, R. P.||Nairn, D. L. S.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Neave, Airey|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Horobin, Sir Ian||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hurd, A. R.||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hylton-Foster, sir H. B. H.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Cordeaux, Lt. -Col. J. K.||Iremonger, T. L.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Osborne, C.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Page, R. G.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Crouch, R. F.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Partridge, E.|
|Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Shepherd, William||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Pike, Miss Mervyn||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Pitt, Miss E. M.||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Pott, H. P.||Speir, R. M.||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Powell, J. Enoch||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. D. C.|
|Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Stoddart-Soott, Col. M.||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||Storey, S.||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Raikes, Sir Victor||Studholme, Sir Henry||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Ramsden, J. E.||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Rawlinson, Peter||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Redmayne, M.||Temple, J. M.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||Whitelaw, W. S. I. (Penrith & Border)|
|Renton, D. L. M.||Thompson, Lt. -Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Ridsdale, J. E.||Thorneyoroft, Rt. Hon. P.||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Roper, Sir Harold||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)||Woollam, John Victor|
|Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Tilney, John (Wavertree)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Turner-Samuels, M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Oakshott and Mr. Wakefield.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Hannan, W.||Parker, J.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Balfour, A.||Holmes, Horace||Pearson, A.|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.)||Holt, A. F.||Pentland, N.|
|Beswick, Frank||Houghton, Douglas||Popplewell, E.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Hubbard, T. F.||Rankin, John|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Bowles, F. C.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Hunter, A. E.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Ross, William|
|Burke, W. A.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Short, E. W.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena(Holbn &St. Pncs, S.)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Champion, A. J.||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Coldrick, W.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech(Wakefield)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Steele, T.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Stross, Dr. Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Davies, Rt. Hon. Clement (Montgomery)||King, Dr. H. M.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Lawson, G. M.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Deer, G.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Lewis, Arthur||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Delargy, H. J.||Lindgren, G. S.||Viant, S. P.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Wade, D. W.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Molnnes, J.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Weitzman, D.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||McLeavy, Frank||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mahon, Simon||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Finch, H. J.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Forman, J. C.||Mason, Roy||Willey, Frederick|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Messer, Sir F.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Mitchison, G. R.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Monslow, W.||Woof, R. E.|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Crenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Moyle, A.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Grey, C. F.||Oram, A. E.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Orbach, M.|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Oswald, T.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Grimond, J.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Mr. Kenneth Robinson and|
|Hale, Leslie||Panned, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Mr. Royle.|
|Bill read the Third time and passed.|