HC Deb 24 June 1969 vol 785 cc1228-36

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Duncan Sandys (Streatham)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to delete the provision in the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act, 1965, which enables the suspension of capital punishment to be prolonged beyond the five-year experimental period by Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament. The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act, 1965, which suspended capital punishment for an experimental period of five years, contains a provision which enables the operation of that Act to be extended by Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament. I seek leave to bring in a Bill to delete that provision which is open to serious objections.

First, it confronts Parliament with an extremely restricted and somewhat invidious choice, either to prolong the suspension of capital punishment under the 1965 Act or simply to allow the Act to lapse, in which case the much criticised provision of the Homicide Act, 1957, would automatically come back into force. This entirely overlooks the possibility that Parliament might wish to restore capital punishment, but under revised conditions.

Apart from that, it would be most improper for an important decision of this kind to be rushed through by this shortcut procedure. It would be quite impossible, in a single debate, to examine adequately all the facts, figures and arguments which will be presented on both sides. Whether capital punishment is to be abolished or restored, the decision should be taken only after the fullest discussion through the normal process of an Act of Parliament. That is precisely the purpose of the Bill that I ask leave to bring in.

There are those who regard capital punishment as a simple moral issue on which one need only consult one's conscience. But that was certainly not the view of Parliament when it passed the 1965 Act. The fact that capital punishment was not abolished, but was merely suspended for five years, shows clearly that it was regarded by Parliament as a practical question to be decided in the light of the experience, which it was hoped to gain during the experimental period. We shall, therefore, have to study most carefully any changes in the trend of crime since suspension and analyse all the various factors which may have influenced it.

The procedure prescribed in the 1965 Act would be appropriate only if there were general agreement in this House and outside that capital punishment ought to be abolished. That is obviously not the case. Recent opinion polls show that over 80 per cent. of those questioned want capital punishment restored. Many who previously supported abolition have now changed their minds, and they include hon. Members of this House.

That is hardly very surprising when one looks at the figures which have been issued by the Home Secretary. Since December, 1964, when executions were stopped, there has been a startling increase in the number of capital murders—that is to say, murders of the types to which the death penalty used to apply. During the last four years, there have been 161 capital murders. That figure compares with 71 during the four previous years. In other words, since capital punishment was suspended the number of capital murders has increased nearly 130 per cent.

It may be argued that that merely reflects the increase in crime of all kinds. But that is not borne out by the figures issued by the Home Office. While the number of capital murders has more than doubled, the number of non-capital murders, to which the death penalty did not apply and which were, therefore, not affected by its suspension, has remained completely constant. In fact, the number of non-capital murders actually dropped by about 3 per cent. during this period.

In this connection, Parliament will have to consider also whether the alternative of so-called life imprisonment provides a sufficient deterrent. Recent judgments show that the terms of imprisonment imposed for capital murder may be no longer and in some cases very much shorter than sentences for robbery with violence. That means that a person who has committed a serious crime may have nothing to lose by shooting the policeman who comes to arrest him.

Some people—though I am not one of them—may feel that the total number of murders is so small that it does not matter much whether there are a few more or a few less. But no one can help being disturbed by the sudden growth of armed gangsterism. This kind of crime was so rare in Britain that, until recently, no official statistics were kept. Up till 1967, the Home Office records lumped together all offences of all kinds involving firearms—big offences and little ones. But even these global figures are very revealing. During the four years before the suspension of capital punishment, these offences averaged about 600 a year. During the four years since suspension, they have risen to 2,500, exactly four times as many.

It is only in the last two years that the Home Office has published separately the number of armed robberies, but these figures already give an indication of the alarming rate at which crimes of this type are increasing. The figures for 1968 show that the number of robberies, in which guns were fired or carried, were 40 per cent. higher than in the previous year. As the Chairman of the Police Federation pointed out on the radio this morning, robbers no longer hesitate, as they did before, to take out a gun and to use it, if necessary, to accomplish their crime or to resist arrest.

My only reason for quoting these facts and figures is to emphasise that the question of capital punishment raises a wide variety of quite complex problems which could not possibly be discussed adequately in a single debate on a simple Motion. The House is, of course, not being asked today to vote for or against capital punishment. My Bill does not seek to prejudge the basic issue. As I have explained, its sole purpose is to ensure that this important decision shall not be unduly rushed.

4.6 p.m.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)

It has been argued that the Bill of the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) would not in any way prejudice the substance of the question whether we should bring back capital punishment. I will deal in a moment with the procedural point with which the right hon. Gentleman started.

First, it must be pointed out that there is considerable substance in the reasoning behind the introduction of the Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman went on in his speech to show this. Those who are opposed to capital punishment can fairly take the view that the effect of the Bill would be to stimulate support for the return of capital punishment and take the argument away from such experience and facts and figures as we have. Already, we have had a reference to the Bill on the B.B.C. this morning by a spokesman of the Police Federation.

However, the Bill deals with murder and not with the carrying of firearms. What the right hon. Gentleman has not referred to is the yearly crime figures, which he talks about in another context, but does not apply to this point about police murders.

When we last debated the matter, in November, 1966, the right hon. Gentleman's argument was that unless capital punishment was reintroduced policemen would be more and more in peril of being killed. That was two and a half years ago. Since then, not a single policeman has been killed. We have all been spared the terrible experience of another Shepherd's Bush.

When discussing these figures, it is important to bear in mind that because we have so few murders in this country we must be careful how we argue from the figures.

However, we have evidence from many countries covering a great number of years, and I hope that, when we come to the real debate on the Resolution, we shall consider the contrasting figures in respect of the murder rates in adjoining American States over 30 years, some of them having capital punishment and others not having it. None of the evidence suggests any relationship between the murder rate and the existence of capital punishment.

In any event, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be impressed by the fact that all but one of our sister European

democracies has abolished capital punishment. There is no capital punishment from the northern tip of Norway to the southern tip of Italy. In an age of gas chambers and mass executions, these countries have found, as we have, a new safeguard and a new dignity in refusing the State the right to take life.

Let me come to the procedural point on which I had thought the right hon. Gentleman would concentrate. It is this: in 1965, the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill, as introduced by Sydney Silverman, was intended, like most of our legislation, to have permament effect. The provision limiting the life of the Act to five years unless there was an affirmative Resolution by Parliament came from an Amendment by Mr. Henry Brooke.

This Amendment was accepted by the sponsors of the Bill, hon. Members from all parties, in a spirit of compromise. It was a typical compromise of our Parliamentary life. What the right hon. Gentleman is asking us to do is to upset that compromise. His Bill, as he has been frank enough to say, would put Parliament back to the position it was in before the Silverman Act; that is to say, it would be necessary to go through the whole legislative process to reaffirm the decision made by Parliament in 1965.

Let us remember that at the same time as Parliament came to that decision it also agreed the procedure to be followed. That was for reaffirmation by Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament. I ask hon. Members to honour this very carefully balanced agreement and not to give permission for the right hon. Gentleman's Bill to be introduced.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):

The House dvided: Ayes 126, Noes 256.

Division No. 284.] AYES [4.13 p.m.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Crouch, David
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Braine, Bernard Currie, G. B. H.
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Dalkeith, Earl of
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Bullus, Sir Eric Dance, James
Berry, Hn. Anthony Burden, F. A. Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)
Biffen, John Chichester-Clark, R. Digby, Simon Wingfield
Biggs-Davison, John Clark, Henry Dodds-Parker, Douglas
Black, Sir Cyril Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Doig, Peter
Blaker, Peter Costain, A. P. Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Drayson, G. B.
Eden, Sir John Longden, Gilbert Russell, Sir Ronald
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) McAdden, Sir Stephen Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.
Errington, Sir Eric Mackenzie, Alasdair(Ross & Cromarty) Scott-Hopkins, James
Farr, John Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Sharples, Richard
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. McMaster, Stanley Sinclair, Sir George
Gibson-Watt, David Maginnis, John E. Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Marten, Neil Stodart, Anthony
Glover, Sir Douglas Maude, Angus Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Mawby, Ray Summers, Sir Spencer
Goodhart, Philip Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Goodhew, Victor Mills, Peter (Torrington) Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Gower, Raymond Monro, Hector Temple, John M.
Gresham Cooke, R. More, Jasper Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Gurden, Harold Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Tilney, John
Hall, John (Wycombe) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Tomney, Frank
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Nabarro, Sir Gerald Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Hamilton, Lord (Fermanagh) Nicholls, Sir Harmar van Straubenzee, W. R.
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Onslow, Cranley Weatherill, Bernard
Harris, Reader (Heston) Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian Wells, John (Maidstone)
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Osborn, John (Hallam) Wiggin, A. W.
Hastings, Stephen Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Willaims, Donald (Dudley)
Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Page, John (Harrow, W.) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Hiley, Joseph Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Hunt, John Peel, John Woodnutt, Mark
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pink, R. Bonner Wright, Esmond
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Pounder, Rafton Wylie, N. R.
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Younger, Hn. George
Kaberry, Sir Donald Rees-Davies, W. R.
Kershaw, Anthony Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Lambton, Viscount Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Miss Harvie Anderson and
Lancaster, Col. C. G. Ridsdale, Julian Mr. David Ensor.
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'dfield) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Abse, Leo Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Albu, Austen d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Hannan, William
Anderson, Donald Delargy, Hugh Harper, Joseph
Archer, Peter Dell, Edmund Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Armstrong, Ernest Dempsey, James Hattersley, Roy
Astor, John Dewar, Donald Hazell, Bert
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Dickens, James Heffer, Eric S.
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Dobson, Ray Henig, Stanley
Awdry, Daniel Driberg, Tom Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Dunn, James A. Hooley, Frank
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dunnett, Jack Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Balniel, Lord Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Hoy, Rt. Hn. James
Barnes, Michael Eadie, Alex Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)
Barnett, Joel Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Beaney, Alan Ellis, John Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Bell, Ronald English, Michael Hunter, Adam
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Hutchison, Michael Clark
Bidwell, Sydney Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Hynd, John
Binns, John Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen) Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)
Bishop, E. S. Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)
Body, Richard Ewing, Mrs. Winfred Janner, Sir Barnett
Booth, Albert Faulds, Andrew Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Boston, Terence Finch, Harold Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Boyden, James Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
Bradley, Tom Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
Brooks, Edwin Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Ford, Ben Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn(W. Ham.S.)
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Forrester, John Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Foster, Sir John Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)
Bryan, Paul Fowler, Gerry Jopling, Michael
Buchan, Norman Fraser, John (Norwood) Judd, Frank
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Freeson, Reginald Kelley, Richard
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Gardner, Tony Kenyon, Clifford
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Ginsburg, David Kerr, Russell (Feltham)
Coe, Denis Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Lawson, George
Coleman, Donald Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Leadbitter, Ted
Concannon, J. D. Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)
Conlan, Bernard Gregory, Arnold Lestor, Miss Joan
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Grey, Charles (Durham) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Lipton, Marcus
Dalyell, Tam Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Lomas, Kenneth
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Loughlin, Charles
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Luard, Evan
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J. Lubbock, Eric
Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Oram, Albert E. Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Orbach, Maurice Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
McBride, Neil Orme, Stanley Skeffington, Arthur
McCann, John Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Slater, Joseph
MacColl, James Oswald, Thomas Small, William
Macdonald, A. H. Owen, Will (Morpeth) Snow, Julian
Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Padley, Walter Spriggs, Leslie
Maclennan, Robert Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Paget, R. T. Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
McNair-Wilson, Michael Palmer, Arthur Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
McNamara, J. Kevin Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Taverne, Dick
MacPherson, Malcolm Pardoe, John Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Park, Trevor Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Manuel, Archie Parker, John (Dagenham) Thornton, Ernest
Marks, Kenneth Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Urwin, T. W.
Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Pavitt, Laurence Varley, Eric G.
Marquand, David Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Vickers, Dame Joan
Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Mayhew, Christopher Pentland, Norman Wallace, George
Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.) Watkins, David (Consett)
Mendelson, John Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Weitzman, David
Wellbeloved, James
Mikardo, Ian Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Millan, Bruce Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. Whitaker, Ben
Miller, Dr. M. S. Probert, Arthur White, Mrs. Eirene
Milne, Edward (Blyth) Rankin, John Wilkins, W. A.
Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Rees, Merlyn Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Molloy, William Richard, Ivor Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Morris, John (Aberavon) Robertson, John (Paisley) Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Rodgers, William (Stockton) Winnick, David
Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Roebuck, Roy Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Woof, Robert
Murray, Albert Ross, Rt. Hn. William Worsley, Marcus
Newens, Stan Rowlands, E.
Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip Ryan, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Oakes, Gordon Scott, Nicholas Mr. William Hamling and
Ogden, Eric Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.) Mr. Martin Maddan.
O'Malley, Brian Sheldon, Robert
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