§ In the case of any person sentenced to life imprisonment for murder the court shall have the power to order that he shall not be considered for release until he has served a specified minimum number of years imprisonment.—[Mr. Fowler.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
In this new Clause we are dealing with the punishment for murder. I suppose there is no other subject which arouses such strong emotions or such strong feelings. Normally these are clearly about capital punishment, and yet the strange fact is that although the argument on capital punishment has ranged to and fro, very little attention has been given to the alternative to capital punishment. The retentionist does not consider the alternative because he believes that all would be solved if capital punishment were restored. The abolitionist does not consider the alternative because he believes that all would be solved as long as hanging was removed from the Statute Book. This is a great pity because I believe there is one point of very real agreement between the retentionists and the abolitionists, and that is that the punishment for murder should recognise the unique seriousness of the crime. Therefore the aim of the Clause is essentially to examine the present life sentence and to see whether it provides an adequate alternative and whether it can be strengthened in the way suggested in the new Clause.
Any punishment for murder must satisfy a number of requirements. Not only must it be an appropriate punishment for the offender, but it should also mark 1715 the public's view of the crime and at the same time act as a deterrent to future crimes. In the Bill generally we have been considering and giving priority to the best way of dealing with the offender. I believe with murder that our priority—our very clear priority—must be the safety of the public.
The characteristic of the life sentence is clearly that it is an indeterminate sentence. Leaving aside the power of the court to recommend a minimum period, an essential of the life sentence is that once passed the power moves from the court. When a man is sentenced to 12 years imprisonment the public know that he will serve at least four years, if not recommended for parole, and that he can also serve up to eight years as a part of that sentence. With the life sentence there is no way of accurately predicting the length of the sentence.
My first objection to the present life sentence is one of principle that the discretion of the court is very substantially removed by the present system. I am conscious that all I am doing here is repeating what has been said far more eloquently by a number of writers and politicians in the past. Two writers, Mr. Terrence Morris and Mr. Louis Blom-Cooper, said in their book "A Calendar of Murder"For the legislature to provide a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for any crime is to reduce to zero the clement of judicial election in sentencing.The point was put in a much more pungent manner in this House in the debate in 1965 on the Bill to abolish capital punishment. In a very telling comment it was said:If we do not give the judiciary in this case —as we do in others—the power to say that the punishment should mark the offence, why do it in any case? Is all sentencing to be in the hands of the faceless, anonymous men who make decisions and give advice? Surely that cannot be right. The public will not tolerate it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May, 1965; Vol. 711, c. 1298.]The force of these words comes down very strongly over the years. In one very important respect it comes down even more strongly because the words were said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir Peter Rawlinson) who is now the Attorney-General. He was not alone on the Conservative benches in having his doubts 1716 about the adequacy of the present life sentence.
We have a sentence but no one can predict its exact length, and this has a number of unhappy results. First, and this is something I deplore very much, it allows very wild and inaccurate statements to be made about what is the average length of a life sentence. We have all heard that "life" means only nine or 10 years. But an average of that sort is simply not true and is not meaningful. It is not true because it is based only upon the figures of those who have been released, and it does not take account of the people who are still serving sentences in prison. It also cannot take into account the situation since the abolition of capital punishment because there has been insufficient time to evaluate sentences or to get any kind of averages based upon experience since then.
It is very important that the message should go from the House that the statements we have sometimes heard about average life sentences are not correct. But we must recognise that it is extremely difficult to put to the public in a reasonably straightforward way the true seriousness of the life sentence. It is a sentence which by definition is surrounded by uncertainty and is based on doubt. Being uncertain, it fails to demonstrate clearly to the public the view that society takes of murder.
I am not sure that a sentence which is so uncertain can be considered as an adequate deterrent. The 30-year sentences given to the train robbers seemed at the time much stronger than the life sentence. I fully accept what has been said in previous debates that with some murders the deterrent effect is not the essential quality. For example, I do not think that any sentence will have a great deal of deterrent effect on murders in the family situation. But that is not the class of murder which is essentially my concern. My concern is the murder committed in the course of crime, the murder of a bank clerk in a robbery, the murder of a policeman. My concern is the professional and semi-professional criminal who goes armed, who goes on his crimes prepared to risk murder. I do not believe that anyone can be anything but alarmed about the present situation in that respect.
I have deliberately chosen not to try to make a statistical case. But there are 1717 two facts the House should understand. The first is that once the criminal statistics are analysed in any depth they show very clearly that it is the most serious forms of crime which have been increasing most rapidly in the past decade. It is not true to say that it is the trivial crimes that are pushing up the figures. The analysis that has been done, notably by McLintock at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, shows that it is the demonstrably serious crime like robbery or felonious wounding that has been increasing not by less than the average but by more than the average. The second point to remember is that it is now much more apparent that more criminals are going armed. In London alone last year there were 338 cases of robbery where the criminals went armed. The Commissioner's Report for London shows that during the 1960s the trend of armed robbery has increased.
The risk of murder or serious injury is growing steadily in Britain today. We must decide whether to sit back and watch the trend or whether we are prepared to put forward policies to tackle the situation. I am not pretending that the Clause alone is likely completely to transform the situation, nor do I think that any one measure alone will do it, but I believe that this measure taken with others might have some effect. The Clause would give the Courts an extra power. At present they can give a life sentence and they can also recommend a minimum period that the offender shall serve. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will say something about his attitude to the recommendation that the courts make, but the legal position remains that the recommendation is not binding upon the Home Office. It is not binding on successive Home Secretaries, nor can it be. This is widely known and commented upon when such recommendations are made by the courts.
The Clause would allow the courts to fix a minimum period within the life sentence. Not until that minimum period was completed would the offender be eligible for consideration for release. Even then, if the Home Secretary considered that the offender's release was a danger to public safety and security. he would have the power to retain him in 1718 prison, as he does now with other life sentence prisoners. But if the offender became seriously ill, for example, the Royal Prerogative of mercy would continue to operate and remission of sentence could continue.
Clearly, the power in the Clause would be used for what the courts regarded as the most serious kinds of murder—mainly, I suspect, murders in the course of crime. But that discretion would rest with the courts.
The Clause has one further advantage, that it does not fall into the trap of the 1957 Act and try to define murder in the furtherance of crime. It leaves that discretion with the courts. I think that is the only sensible way. I do not think it introduces any remarkable new principle into sentencing. A court which, for example, gives a minimum sentence of 20 years within the life sentence is doing no more than the court in the train robbery case in 1963 did in giving a 30-year sentence, because then offenders served two-thirds of their prison sentences and were not eligible for parole.
The question of life sentences is under review by the Criminal Law Revision Committee under Lord Justice Edmund Davies. The Committee was set up no less than 26 months ago, in March, 1970, by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) when he was Home Secretary. It always seemed to me a rather uncharacteristic act of the right hon. Gentleman, because one of his favourite remarks about the Home Office was that he was surrounded by so many advisory committees that he sometimes felt he had to ask permission before he even blew his nose. Yet what did he do when faced with the problem of life sentences but set up yet another advisory committee to consider the question?
It is not only strange but a serious matter that we should have been waiting for the committee's report for over two years. An advisory committee should be an aid to Government, not a means of slowing it down. I do not know where the blame lies. It was always a guiding principle of my previous professional life, and to some extent of my political life, that when in doubt one blames the Home Office.
1719 The Bill gives us the opportunity for legislation on this matter. It is probably the only opportunity in this Parliament. Therefore, the Home Office should progress the outstanding advisory committees' reports to take the opportunity when it is presented. I see no point in setting up advisory committees if doing so simply causes delay, if it is simply a means of avoiding making decisions.
I doubt whether the subject should have been given to an advisory committee in the first place. The issues are not so complex that they could not have been considered within the Department and then made the subject of a political decision.
There is a strong case for the Clause. It provides an element of certainty within the life sentence. It puts the decision back with the court and gives it an extra power. Above all, it demonstrates much more clearly than is demonstrated now the very serious view that we in the House, the public and society generally take of the appalling crime of murder.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. F. P. Crowder (Ruislip-Northwood)
Despite the distinguished names set to the new Clause on the Paper, I have to tell the House that, on balance, I have come down against it. One of the problems in the courts today is that murder cases are being tried, virtually, in a holiday atmosphere. The crime of murder seems to have lost its seriousness in the eyes of the courts. I shall give the House some illustrations of what I mean which have come my way in the course of practice at the Bar.
Not long ago, I was concerned in a case at the Old Bailey in which the accused, a young man of only 16 or 17, was charged with murder. He had been insulted by the leader of a gang. He took a bus home, collected his own gang, and picked up a carving knife from the kitchen. Off they went and rediscovered the man who had insulted him, and he stabbed him through the heart.
I am sorry to have to tell the House that the learned judge and the prosecution accepted a plea of guilty to manslaughter, presumably on the basis that there was no point in trying it as a case of murder because there would be no difference at the end of the day in the 1720 sort of sentence which that young man would serve. To treat a classic case of murder in that way makes nonsense of the law. It brings the law into disrepute. It is most offensive to the relatives of the dead person.
Here is another example, at assizes. I was prosecuting in a case in which a man had driven his best friend in a car, stopped the car, stabbed him through the heart, and taken £100 worth of notes off him. The defence raised the question of accepting a plea of guilty to manslaughter. The learned judge, who shall be nameless, said, "Mr. Crowder, I have read the papers. I think that the ends of justice will be served on that basis". I said, "I have read the papers, too, and they will not. Let us proceed with the case. If, at the end, the verdict is manslaughter as opposed to murder, so be it". We did proceed with the case, and the man was convicted of murder.
These matters are of great significance in relation to the criminal statistics. When pleas are entered and accepted on the basis of that sort of slipshod attitude to murder and manslaughter, the statistics of murder are made nonsense.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
Is not the hon. and learned Gentleman's criticism in fact a criticism of the Bar and, possibly, even of the judge, rather than a condemnation of the law?
§ Mr. Crowder
I agree. In my view, the criticism must go not only to the Bar but to the courts. This is a new feature which would never have entered into the working of the criminal law 10, 15 or 18 years ago when I, at least, began to practise in this type of case.
Here is another example which goes the other way. I went to Lewes Assizes not so long ago, where the case was tried of a man who pushed a shotgun through the window of his house and shot his wife's lover through the stomach. He was charged with murder. What happens? We have a splendid fight for three days. I have a triumphant result in that, for some reason or other, perhaps because it was a Sussex jury, he is convicted of manslaughter. But what then? The learned judge, quite rightly, sentences him to life imprisonment for manslaughter. In that case, therefore, the three days' trial was, in effect, utterly wasted, though in the opposite sense.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
What my hon. and learned Friend is saying—is this what he intends?—makes utter nonsense of the criminal statistics.
§ Mr. Crowder
Yes, it makes complete nonsense of the criminal statistics when, in classic murder cases, pleas of guilty to manslaughter are entered and accepted in that way, because such cases are put in the statistics of manslaughter, not murder.
The statistics run a bit amok in this way too. I was talking to the principal prison doctor at Brixton the other day, and he told me of the number of people whose lives he had saved with modern drugs, people who had been the victims of attack and grievous bodily harm and who, a few years ago, had it not been for certain drugs, would almost certainly have died. This, also, drastically reduces the murder figures.
What are we to do? Everyone knows that, if a sentence of 18 years' imprisonment is passed, provided the prisoner behaves himself he must have a one-third remission, so that he will serve not more than 12 years.
Now we have the new system of parole. I must say that it gave me quite a nasty turn the other day. I was on my local railway station, and a young man came up to me and said, "It is very nice to see you, Mr. Crowder. You defended me, you remember, at the Old Bailey, and I got four years". I replied that I did indeed remember, but it was only about 18 months ago—"I hope that I shall not be in trouble for assisting you as an escaped prisoner". "No", he said, "that is all right. I got parole. There was no bother at all".
That is the sort of way in which sentences imposed by the courts may, time and again, be made to look rather nonsensical.
§ Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)
That would be a most unusual form of remission, and a most unusual experience for members of the Bar in relation to their clients, would it not? I am referring not to the hon. and learned Gentleman's encounter on the railway station but to the limited time spent in prison on a four-year sentence.
§ Mr. Crowder
I agree, but it does happen from time to time, and I believe 1722 it to be happening far more often than we in the House fully realise. One begins to wonder what a sentence passed in a court of law means in practical effect.
I was discussing the subject matter of the new Clause the other day with one of Her Majesty's judges who specialises in criminal matters. This is the argument he put to me, and I think that the House may find it useful. Whenever a man is given a life sentence, the judge—my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—has a duty to write to the Home Secretary giving his views, ideas and feelings about the case. If the new Clause were to become law, the judge could be put in an embarrassing position.
Sometimes, in mercy killing cases or cases of murder in most extenuating circumstances, the judge will take the view either that there should be virtually no sentence or that the sentence should be very mild. In a sense, that brings the law of murder, the most serious crime known to our law, into disrepute, for, if a judge sentences a man who has murdered in extenuating circumstances to six months' or a year's imprisonment. something like that, the matter will not be properly reported in the Press. It will not be fully covered, and, once again, it will make nonsense of the law of murder, whereas under the present system——
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
My hon. and learned Friend may well have got it wrong. Whatever view one takes of the new Clause, one should not forget that the power would be given to the court to exercise—shall have the power to order"—but it would not have to exercise it. The court will act with discretion, and, in the mercy killing case, for example, simply make no recommendation as to the length of time.
§ Mr. Crowder
But then one is back to this: if judges are not to sentence when it does not suit them, we are not far from the recommendation as it is at the moment. Under the recommendation system, in a really serious case, the learned judge may say— as in the Kray brothers case and similar cases—that he recommends 25 or 30 years; but nobody is bound by that.
I have been at the criminal Bar for 22 years and feel that the answer today 1723 would be to restore the death penalty, but not to implement it except in the most serious cases on the recommendation of the prosecution, the manner to be heard before a full court of seven Judges in the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.
Having taken part in all the debates on the death penalty, I am certain that the death penalty was a deterrent. Hon. Members opposite shake their heads, but let us take our minds back to the war and to service in the Armed Forces. I am certain that, if the dealth penalty had not been something of a deterrent, we all would have won Victoria Crosses. Of course, it is a deterrent. People do not like the thought of being hanged and there is no harm in keeping the shadow of it there. There have been one or two notorious cases in recent years—the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) was engaged in one case and I was engaged in another, if not two—where the death penalty would not have been imposed.
I am suggesting that the death penalty would be implemented on the recommendation of the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal, and the whole matter would be gone into by seven judges with the greatest possible care. It might happen that the death penalty would be enforced every three or four years, but if this meant the saving of a life in relation to the law of murder, I do not think any harm could be done. One of the problems at present is that the worst type of murderer is not the man who when shaving in the morning has no idea that he will commit a murder on impulse, through drink, or passion, but the man who deliberately and coldly plans a murder.
It is generally accepted that one cannot keep a man in prison for more than nine, ten or eleven years otherwise he becomes a sort of institutionalised vegetable and he is useless when let out into society in future.
Judging by Home Office figures for past years, it seems that murderers seldom serve more than nine, ten or eleven years. One of the first cases I ever handled involved the smashing of a plate-glass window. I told the defendant to plead guilty and he agreed. I asked whether he had any previous convictions and he said 1724 that he had not. I said, "Are you sure?", and he replied, "Well, there was one about 12 years ago". I asked him what it was, and he said "Murder". He had been reprieved. That is the sort of curious situation that is firmly in the mind of the would be murderer, that he is unlucky if he has to serve more than ten or eleven years.
This means that we have put a premium on murder because it pays to shoot one's way out. Let us take the armed gang which goes out on a big bank raid and let us assume that the sum involved is £150,000. What will such men get if caught? They will probably get 18 or 20 years. If we take off a third for remission, the total figure is probably nearer 12 years.
On past results, what is the difference between serving a sentence for that murder and going out with a gun to protect oneself? If the police turn up, shoot them—what is there to lose? Absolutely nothing. I take the view that by abolishing the death penalty we have put a premium on murder and that this is the reason for the increase in crimes of violence.
I apologise for having detained the House at such length, but I believe that this whole matter needs looking at in a very different way. Much as I appreciate the good will and good intentions of my right hon. Friends in proposing the new Clause, it does not take us any further than the situation we now face—and it must be rectified.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Sir Elwyn Jones
I can only designate as astounding the description the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) has given of the contemporary conduct of murder trials. I cannot believe that it presents a true picture of what goes on in our courts today. I think the picture portrayed by him can be described as grotesque.
From my experience of trials in which I have participated recently I would say that the hon. and learned Gentleman has presented a caricature of the situation and made an extraordinary attack on the alleged irresponsibility of our judges and counsel who have the heavy responsibility of prosecuting in Her Majesty's Courts. By his remarks he has rendered no service to the administration of justice. One of 1725 the effects of that kind of speech is to create alarm in the public and a lack of confidence in it. It is as if our administration of justice is soft. It is not.
I shall remember for a long time a speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) which described the severity of some of the contemporary punishments. He pointed out how increasingly more men are spending more years in prison as the years go by. In 1968 some 47 prisoners had served more than nine years; in 1969 the figure was 59; in 1970 the figure was 71; and in 1971 the figure was 85, 16 of whom had already served more than 13 years, one of whom had served 20 years. It is a caricature to say that there is any softness or flabbiness about the situation. No useful purpose is served to the public by the kind of speech to which we have just listened.
§ Mr. Crowder
The last thing I wish to do is to cause alarm or despondency. I am saying that from a practical point of view, bearing in mind the saving of time, many murder cases turn into pleas of guilty to manslaughter. At the end of the day when the penalty has to be considered and dealt with, there is little real difference in it. I am not attempting to create any alarm whatever in the public mind or to disparage any of Her Majesty's judges or counsel.
§ Sir Elwyn Jones
I doubt whether they will receive much comfort from that observation in the light of what the hon. and learned Gentleman said earlier.
To give an account of one experience and then to make a general comment about the Parole Board was a total caricature. The Parole Board consists of three High Court judges, a number of experts in the social sciences and a number of ordinary folk representing the public. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that in considering the safeguards which now exist in the Parole Board, in the judges' recommendations, in the Lord Chief Justice's recommendations and the Home Secretary's own personal consideration of the matter, all those people involved are indifferent to public protection and to the security of the public?
We have created elaborate machinery to see that first and foremost in the con- 1726 sideration of whether a lifer should be released, matters of public safety and public protection should be paramount. It is right that the House should make these matters known to the public and also that criminals should know that there will be no compassion shown to the violent criminal who goes out to use a gun.
I will not go into the issue of the death penalty, for it is not within the ambit of the new Clause. But there again the assertions of the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip, Northwood, I am sorry to say, bear no relation to the facts. I rise to oppose the new Clause, moved in a far more responsible and moderate way by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler), whose interest and expertness in this matter I readily acknowledge, as does the House.
My view is that the mandatory life sentence is the right way of dealing with the crime of murder. In my view, in so far as penal provisions can ever be effective for the protection of the public, the life sentence is as good a protection to the public as current thinking at any rate can devise, consistent with the dictates of ordinary humane considerations. As I have ventured to say, I think that it is irresponsible to create unnecessary alarm by exaggerating and caricaturing occasional failures.
I have mentioned some of the safeguards within the system of release already, but now, of course, the judges have the power to recommend specific terms if they wish to do so. What I have found interesting is how rarely that power is exercised. I remember taking part in the vilest murder case that probably has taken place in this country this century, but a very wise judge in that case did not specify a term of 30 or 40 years. It is a power which most judges think should be left to the Home Office.
How can the judge foretell? How can he look ahead to the state of mind, the conduct, the behaviour of a prisoner 10 years after trial? It cannot be done. Very few judges want or seek to do it. I make no criticism of those who, in the face of dreadful murders, especially of police, think that perhaps in the public interest and as a sort of public reassurance in the occasional case it should 1727 be done, but in my view it is almost an act of arrogance to project oneself forward a term of years ahead and then seek a finite penalty in terms of 10 or 15 or 20 years.
After all there is room in all of us for reform, for change, for improvement, and there have been some remarkable experiences in criminal history of released murderers proving the most admirable citizens after they have been liberated. Provided the safeguards are as effective as human judgment can devise, it is right that the opportunity for release should be made. It is also right that the responsibility for that should rest in the hands of those who will have the continuous care over the years of the prisoner. Of course it is also right that the judges should be consulted, and they are. They are not likely to take a sentimental view of murder cases. I am sure that the Home Secretary receives a mass of responsible advice with the consideration of protection of the public foremost in the minds of those advising him.
While I appreciate the anxiety which has prompted the new Clause, I do not think that it would add to the protection of the public, and I think the present arrangements are as carefully devised as it seems to me practical in present circumstances. What is in any event important is that the Criminal Law Revision Committee has been seized of this subject now—I agree for an awful long time. It is not an easy subject and the ground it is covering is pretty large. It is considering homicide as a whole, how it should be prosecuted and how it should be punished. While one is always a little impatient about the time factor in regard to the work of a committee like this, it must not be overlooked by the House that after all those who belong to it are busily engaged in the courts themselves.
Lord Justice Edmund Davies is a member of the Court of Appeal, which sits daily. Others who are with him on the committee are similarly engaged in commitments. Indeed, one of the merits of setting up the Law Commission was that we had a full-time body of law reformers who did nothing else. I feel that the strictures of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South were perhaps a little hard on the committee, but I agree that it is a pity that we have not had the 1728 report sooner. But there it is. Here is an expert body which has been studying this matter for two years, and my submission, and such advice as I am free to give to the House, is that the best course before changing the law in the way proposed in the new Clause is at any rate to wait until we get the report of this authoritative and high-powered committee.
§ Mr. Deedes
I do not wish to prolong the debate, nor get in the way of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is anxious to respond. But I want to add one reason from the many I would like to offer for supporting the new Clause.
Those of us who took part in the very long proceedings on the Silverman Act which led to the abolition of capital punishment were made aware that, with abolition and the substitution of the life sentence, there would elapse a period of time during which nobody would know what penalty was being exacted for the most heinous type of murder—that is to say, murder by the professional robber in furtherance of his aims, the type of murder which the rather ill-starred Homicide Act, 1957, was designed to catch but failed to catch for a number of reasons.
The length of the life sentence served by any particular individual will never be known, and rightly so, because the date of release ordanied by the Home Secretary is known to no one outside the Home Office. Nevertheless, 15 or 20 years after the Silverman Act and abolition, we should I think be able to form some impression of how long life sentences were lasting for the worst kind of offence. That impression in my view would constitute an important part of the deterrent. It is not an impression which we have at this point of time. We cannot have it because the Silverman Act has been on the Statute Book only for six or seven years.
I do not accept that the length of penalty has no deterrent effect. I did not accept this on abolition and I do not accept it now. I do not accept that the criminal is indifferent to the probable sentence he will receive. If we accepted that, it would render the penal system absurd in some aspects. As things are, only seven years after abolition who can tell the reality of the deterrent for the class of murder which my hon. Friend has in 1729 mind? No one can predict the exact length.
The Home Secretary can, and will, I am sure, give us the assurance that sentences for violent crimes such as we have in mind, even if they do not amount to murder, are getting longer. We know this to be, true and the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) was right to say so in the course of his remarks. The Home Secretary might even quote the number now serving a life sentence for murder. I think that I know the figure but I will not give it. It is a considerable and astonishing nunmber. The example of what certain types of murder will attract is not clear in the mind's eye of the murderer and, with respect, it is what is in his mind's eye and not what is in the mind's eye of the public that interests me, important though the public may be. How can this reality be in the murderer's mind's eye?
Nor is this made much clearer by the present system of a recommendation to the Home Secretary by the trial judge. I hope I am not derogating from the authority of justice when I say that it is a declaratory sentence. He declares that in his view it rates a certain amount. It is a recommendation. It may be accepted or rejected but it is not binding on the Home Secretary or his successors. Incidentally, when we come to the remark of the right hon. and learned Member about how can a judge in those circumstances assess what may be the situation ten years hence, what may be the state of a man's mind, may I ask him to explain how this is done when a determinate sentence is passed which may on occasion be longer than the life sentence which is being passed? It did not seem that his argument was entirely logical.
To permit the judge to lay down, as he can in all determinate sentences, how long that sentence should be would in my opinion aid the impression, and it is essential to create this impression, that for certain murders punishment will remain extremely severe. That is surely the fundamental desire of my hon. Friend and of many of us. I believe that this Clause would further discourage professional killing, the words kind of killing, and that is why it has my support.
§ Sir Elwyn Jones
In supporting this Clause, does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate that the licensing provisions and the parole provisions should not apply to a sentence specified by the judge as the minimum number of years of imprisonment that a prisoner should serve? If this is so, it makes a great deal of difference between that set-up and the set-up of the determinate sentence which is subject to both parole and licensing.
§ Mr. Deedes
I will answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman frankly. I have always had doubts, since the system of parole was introduced, whether, as in certain countries, it should not be made clear that in respect of certain offences parole would not apply, I am bound to say that I think that would be my answer in respect of the crimes we are now discussing.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones), in directing his last question to the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), illustrated the difference not between the two sides but between the two points of view on this issue. When the right hon. Gentleman was saying that there are certain crimes where parole and licensing should not in his view operate, he was arguing by implication that there is no possibility of rehabilitating some people, or at least that they ought not to be given the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. I find that a dangerous and unacceptable argument.
The right hon. Gentleman also argued the case for a tariff for offences of murder. This also represented to me an unacceptable argument. If we establish tariffs there is a great danger of rigidity in the whole system, which I understood was something which those who advanced a similar Amendment in Committee wanted to avoid. The hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) adduced that argument in Committee.
There has been a change of course in the debate tonight on the part of those who are putting forward the new Clause. The hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder), in a speech which was severely criticised. and rightly so, by my right hon. and learned 1731 Friend, argued the case for the restoration of capital punishment. This new Clause has been taken from the substitutes' bench because the capital punishment player was not able to be fielded today having been defeated in Committee, but it would not be in order for me to argue that case, and I do not propose to do so.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) said that the trouble with life imprisonment is that it is unpredictable, may be unfair to the offender and is unfair to the public because it does not provide a satisfactory deterrent. That is why he wants the trial judge to have the power to order a fixed penalty for murderers. With respect, those are contradictory arguments. The unpredictability may represent a serious deterrent to the offender, but I am not sure that the professional killer ever thinks about the death penalty or life imprisonment. What he really thinks about is his invincibility against being caught. I have not been involved in as many murder cases as the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-Northwood and other hon. and learned Members, but I have been involved in some. It seemed to me that the persons I have represented believed that they would never be caught and were surprised that they were eventually caught. The argument about a greater detection rate and increasing the powers of the police to achieve it is the most important issue in all this.
The arguments about the average time spent in prison by those convicted of murder, which was heavily relied on in Committee, seems to have been totally destroyed by the Minister of State and has not been resurrected tonight. It was founded on false statistical information and on a totally inaccurate premise.
Judges at present have powers to make recommendations in certain cases, and, for good reasons, they have been loth to exercise those powers. They ale sensible people, compassionate in the main, and they recognise the limitations they enjoy. A trial judge may not always be the best person to postulate the sentence—at any rate a long sentence. I am not satisfied that the trial judge, on the limited information available to him at the conclusion of the trial, can necessarily form 1732 the right view as to the penalty that should be imposed.
The idea of sentencing boards has been canvassed and there is much to be said for it. The difficulty is that it would delay trials. However, in cases where a judge believes a long sentence should be imposed, it might be a good idea that some sort of system analogous to the Parole Board system, where profound advice is available to the Home Secretary, should be available at the outset. I would like to see the Home Secretary investigating that possibility. This is not in any way to deride the judges or treat them with contempt, but one wonders whether one man, with necessarily at times inadequate information before him, is the right sort of person to pronounce long sentences.
The worst feature of the Clause is that it will deprive the accused person who is recommended for a long term by the trial judge of having any incentive to rehabilitate himself. That is one of the most important features of civilised criminology. One must give a man in prison some hope that he is capable of reform. He must be given something to work, live and hope for. If he is denied that opportunity I venture to suggest that we shall have facing us in our prisons, which are already heavily congested and in some instances providing the most appalling conditions, trouble on our hands that makes the recent outbreaks of violence in some cases and of strikes in others seem absolutely nothing by comparison.
There is little in the arguments that have been adduced that it is wrong to interfere with the Home Secretary's discretion, because that would be the inevitable corollary of passing this Clause. If a certain sentence was fixed it would be difficult for the Home Secretary to interfere with that because he would be criticised for interfering with a judicial act. As the Minister argued in Committee, it would help to raise the hopes of a prisoner who had an eight or nine year sentence imposed upon him that he would be released at the end of that time, when the Home Secretary might think on balance that was not the most appropriate course.
For all these reasons I think that the present situation works, that the Home 1733 Secretary's discretion is exercised wisely, and that if we are to change it in favour of the Clause we should create a serious situation in our prisons. We should create a situation where a lot of no-hopers would be living out their days in prison. I cannot believe that in a civilised system of society that could be a good thing.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Reginald Maudling)
As I was not a member of the Committee, although I have studied the discussion in Committee, I welcome the opportunity to explain to the House a few of these matters. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) for moving the Clause in such a thoughtful way.
I find that this is an extremely difficult problem to assess. It is one that comes home to any Home Secretary. The change proposed in the Clause is fairly simple. At present the life sentence is mandatory in these circumstances. Judges have the right to recommend a minimum sentence. The change would be to make that not only a power to recommend but a power to determine a minimum sentence. I recognise the feeling about this. One cannot but be appalled at the rate at which violent crime is growing in this country. We cannot fail to recognise that the statistics of murder or manslaughter—I agree the statistics are difficult to sort out in present circumstances—are very disturbing. Therefore, it is right to consider what measures can or should be taken for the protection of society against this rather sinister development.
In effect, these problems arise from the ending of capital punishment. It is the new situation which arose with the ending of capital punishment which now faces us. We all recognise that no one has yet found the proper answer to the difficulty of how to deal with murderers at a time when capital punishment has been abolished by the will of Parlament.
I should make clear to the House that I have always believed capital punishment was an appropriate penalty for murder. I consistently voted against abolition. I am still of that view. However, that is not relevant because Parliament has decided, and I, like every- 1734 one else, accept the will of Parliament and must work within it.
The problems involved for the individual and for society in the concept of a light sentence in these circumstances are considerable. Keeping a man permanently without hope of release until he vegetates into old age is a terrible thing. I cannot help thinking that in some ways it is more cruel than capital punishment. We all know about the case outside the criminal law of Rudolph Hess and the feelings which arose about his imprisonment.
Is it right to keep a man in imprisonment all his life? We have to balance the proper claim of the individual to be given a chance to rehabilitate himself with that of society to be protected. These two claims are difficult to balance. Yet that is what the Home Secretary often has to do in individual cases. The problems faced by a Home Secretary in these circumstances can be more difficult than those facing him in confirming a death sentence.
Let us consider some of the cases. There may be a recommendation from the Parole Board or from the medical people that a man after many years in prison can he regarded as cured of his criminal murderous tendencies. They may be right, but they may be wrong. One obviously wants to release the man, because to keep him in prison when he is no longer a danger to the public is not right.
However, I believe that a long sentence for murder is right in the sense that, as has been said, murder is the unique crime and should be treated with unique severity. This is right. Murder in itself should be met with a long and severe sentence. Long and severe sentences have an end. The question at the end of a period of years is: should the man be released? One may be advised that he is safe to be released. But suppose the advice is wrong. Suppose a man is alowed to go and he kills someone else. The responsibility on the Home Secretary who has decided to release him is serious. One must therefore recognise that these are matters of great difficulty and complexity. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity of debating them in this atmosphere.
1735 There is without doubt a need for flexibility in these matters. Men change as circumstances change. Though I agree that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) dealt effectively with the argument of the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) that it was impossible for the judge to fix a term, it still remains the fact that human forecasting is not infallible by a long way. It is true that men change. One purpose of imprisonment, among other things, is rehabilitation. In so far as rehabilitation is effective we hope that with modern methods it will become more so and that men will change, too. I think that the judges themselves recognise this, because, as has been said, it is noticeable that relatively rarely do judges use their power to recommend a minimum sentence for murder. This is significant. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South rightly said, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the present situation. The theory has got about of an average term of nine or ten years for murder. This concept is quite misleading. It is, for many reasons already mentioned, the fact that not enough years have passed since the abolition of capital punishment and the end of reprieves to enable the statistics to be adequate upon which to base a conclusion.
Again, one should not base statistics on the length of time served by those who are let out without reference to the length of time served by those who are not let out. One should always remember that a surprisingly high proportion of murderers commit what are called family murders, murders within the family, murders committed very much on impulse, to which no sentence is really a deterrent. I believe that the people about whom we are now thinking are those who murder deliberately in the course of crime, and who make up a surprisingly small proportion of the number of murders committed annually. It is those people for whom deterrence is far more likely to be effective than for the so-called family murderers.
Finally in this connection, one must also consider that the life sentence prisoner is permanently liable to recall to prison in any circumstances. If a prisoner 1736 has a terminable sentence he goes out at the end of it, but a life sentence prisoner can be recalled to prison at any time on the decision of the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
Does the Home Secretary agree that protecting the public by keeping an individual locked away is quite different from a deterrent? Was it not George Bernard Shaw who said that the deterrent effect of hanging the wrong man was as high as that of hanging the right man?
§ Mr. Maudling
Yes, I have studied both Shaw and Plato on the subject.
I believe that we have here three elements—retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation—but that one must have regard to the protection of the public, and basically the feature of life sentences for murder offences is that the protection of the public should be in the mind of any Home Secretary in deciding whether or not it is safe to release an individual. These are some of the thoughts that occur to me in relation to this proposal.
I see difficulties in the concept of a fixed term. If it is combined with a life sentence, it might in some cases be too litle, I can think of cases, thugh I will not name them, of people convicted of murder who never again should be released on the public. But if the fixed term is to be combined with a life sentence there arises the difficult question of how one fits it in with the parole system. Does one or does one not continue the parole system for life sentence prisoners? If one does, I do not think that much change will be made in the present system. If not, one may be moving from what I think is a very helpful development in our whole penal system.
Again, I think that it will be found that if there is a fixed term definitely set the prisoner will normally come to regard that as the total length of sentence and will expect to be released automatically at the expiry of that fixed term. But I can think of cases in which to do that would not be very healthy; cases in which a man would not improve in prison but would deteriorate and should not be let out. Further, great difficulties would he laid on the prison service, for which we must have considerable regard, if that development were to take place.
1737 Another question is: how long should the fixed term be? Are courts to be entitled to award a minimum fixed term of 30 years, 40 years or 50 years? Here, again, one then comes across the very difficult problem of how the prison service could cope with a man who had no hope left and upon whom no sanction could be visited. That difficult problem merits careful consideration.
The present system is that life sentence prisoners can be released only on the Home Secretary's authority after recommendation by the Parole Board, and the Parole Board is a very distinguished body, containing three members of the judiciary as well as other distinguished people.
In addition to having to receive a recommendation from the Parole Board the Home Secretary has to consult, if they are available, both the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge before reaching his conclusion. I should have thought that it would be unusual for any Home Secretary to agree to the release of a prisoner against the recommendation of the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge. Certainly I have not done so, and I should think that it would happen very rarely, if at all.
I am entirely prepared to keep an open mind on this proposition. I have been rehearsing some of the difficulties which I think must be considered in adopting the proposal inherent in the Clause. I recognise the public concern about these matters and the great need to protect the public against the growing amount of violent crime. My advice to the House is that we should not reach a decision on this matter now, that we should keep an open mind about it, particularly because, as has been said, the Criminal Law Revision Committee under Lord Justice Edmund Davies is studying this and will, I hope, shortly report on this and other matters.
Since the debate in Committee when this was mentioned I have inquired from the distinguished chairman of the committee whether it would be possible for him and his colleagues to make an interim report on this aspect. He has advised me that they think it would not be wise to do so because all the subjects which they are considering are very much interlocked and to make a change in one area would be very difficult without 1738 affecting other areas. He and his colleagues think that it would not be wise to single out this aspect for interim report. He has further authorised me to say that it should not be assumed that the committee's conclusions will be in line with the Clause.
In view of the seriousness of the matter I thought it right to consult the Lord Chief Justice. He has informed me that his view, which he believes would have the general support of the judges of the Queen's Bench Division, is that this is a complicated matter and that it would be premature to make any change in the law in advance of the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee which will in due course be presenting its assessment of all the relevant arguments and considerations. That is the considered view of the Lord Chief Justice, and I commend that point of view to the House.
I think there are difficult considerations to be balanced against one other in deciding this matter. I see the need to protect the public. I see that just as any Home Secretary always would. I also see the practical difficulty of adopting the course set forth so clearly in the speech of my hon. Friend in moving the Second Reading of the Clause. I believe that we should regard this as a matter which should be further considered and thought over. When we have the report of the distinguished Criminal Law Revision Committee, then will be the time to take a decision on this and other cognate issues in this exceedingly difficult human matter.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandelson
In spite of what the Home Secretary said in his cogent speech on the subject generally, I rise to speak briefly and to oppose the new Clause. The strongest possible arguments have been advanced by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House why the Clause should be opposed. No one will question the sincerity of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler).
Not long ago I had the privilege of sitting behind the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) in a murder trial. No one will challenge his sincerity or, indeed, the zeal with which he has pursued this question when one recalls that in a Motion as long ago as 1961 he was urging the Government of 1739 the day to give a more definite and harsher meaning—if I may put it that way—to a sentence of life imprisonment. Many hon. Members who felt that his agitation in 1961 was wrong—I was not in the House at that time—still feel that nothing has transpired since then which can possibly add any further weight to the Clause which is being advocated this evening.
Many experts on prison have expressed the view, which is entirely familiar to hon. Members, that there is good reason why a prisoner should not be incarcerated for more than 10 years unless his potential danger to society is likely to manifest itself again. It was Sir Alexander Paterson, one of the most eminent people in this sphere, who expressed that view and who was surely right to say that human personality tends to disintegrate after 10 years in an institution, whatever improvements are made in prison conditions.
That being so, while some murderers who, because of their diseased mentality, present a continuing menace to society may have to be detained for extremely long terms, in some cases almost literally for life, we should be reluctant to accept very long stretches of life imprisonment as anything but exceptional.
This Clause, in effect, presents a threat of something no less inhumane and a great deal less rational than the death penalty, and I was interested in what the Home Secretary said about this. Indeed, leaving aside other considerations as to the morality or otherwise of the death penalty, it would in many instances be an act of kindness to terminate life on the scaffold than to turn a living man into a travesty of humanity by a very long stretch of incarceration in prison conditions.
None of us can doubt—least of all the movers of the Clause because, after all, this is their object in moving it—that the ending of the mandatory life sentence would result in the passing of sentences which would effectively kill any hope of release at a point when a man could still pick up the threads of normal life. For those who would remain in prison under this Clause for 20 or even 30 years, the breakdown of normal human stability would effectively destroy any hope of coming to terms with the outside world 1740 on being released. I believe that to be equally true in respect of extremely long sentences passed by the courts in respect of offences other than murder.
It is no criticism of judges, unhappily faced with the task of sentencing murderers, to say that after a week or 10 days of listening to the often gruesome evidence in a murder trial they must react with passion and repugnance. The time to determine the length of sentence to be served is surely not on the last day of such a trial, in the pent-up atmosphere of the court room, but after a period of years—under any circumstances in respect of a lengthy period in the case of murder —when a man's behaviour and psychological development has been under constant surveillance for a long time and it becomes possible to decide, on the basis of medical fact and rational consideration. whether he can he released without public danger.
The criticism that is made of a fixed-term sentence is that it is not open to review, unlike the life sentence—which paradoxically is subject to regular review —said misleadingly to average out at 9 to 10 years. I will say no more about this because the suggestion of the 9 to 10-year average has already been effectively punctured. It would be more accurate to say that the most common sentence for a released murderer to have served would be in the region of nine years, but that does not take into account those who are left inside still serving their terms of imprisonment.
One recognises the emotions that this subject evokes. It should not be thought by anyone in the House that those opposing the Clause are any less concerned about the senseless killing, for example, of a police officer in cold blood or the evil murders of others, with all that is entailed for their families. But in abolishing the death penalty a civilised society has already turned away from primeval concepts of mere revenge. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" has lost its moral force in the times in which we live. Deferrence and public safety become the criteria in estimating a proper sentence for even the most heinous of all offences.
It has already been rightly said that the great majority of murders arise from 1741 family situations, and those murders do not normally spring from the psycotic personality. The circumstances usually speak for themselves and there is very rarely any danger to society of repetition or of any form of violent conduct when the murderer has been released. Deterrence does not, therefore, affect this type of crime, and for this type of murder the deterrent sentence can have no significance. They are the great majority of all on whom the present life sentence is passed and they are the ones who, for the most part, are released after the nine-year period. It is with the small minority of murderers that we are concerned, the murders committed by men with positive streaks of abnormality in their makeup. It is already true to say that they are not released after nine or ten years, or anything like that in the case of many of this type of murderer, and they form only a tiny minority of murderers.
An effective system of review and parole is already in operation. It has been described as an elaborate machinery. If it is right that judges should express a view by recommending a minimum term, even though that lacks binding effect, is it not even more right that High Court judges should sit on the Parole Board, as they now do, and review the sentence after a long period of years? In that way the Parole Board is able to combine the judicial wisdom expressed coolly long after the event with the medical reports and the expertise that is available to the Home Secretary and to the Parole Board at the time, which can surely tell a great deal more about a man's mental outlook and capacity to rejoin society after many years in prison than can the naked, horrifying details known to the judge at the time of passing sentence.
The Clause evokes a great concern on the part of many of us in the House. I was not a member of the Committee, but I am grateful to the House for allowing me to express these views in opposing the Clause. I hope that the House will reject it if there is a vote on it this evening.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
This is an important debate, and it has been informed by sober and careful contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House who, in the law or in administration, have had what one might 1742 call almost first-hand experience of the problems involved in either the trial of murder cases or in having to deal with murderers when they have been convicted.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) on having moved the new Clause and on the research which he has obviously put into the facts which he brought to the notice of the House and the concern which informed his whole approach.
Having said that, I have to say that, for a number of reasons, this is not a Clause which I can support. I say that with reluctance, because I was one of those—in this, I follow my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—who opposed the abolition of capital punishment for murder. I believe, even now, and possibly more so now than when these matters were last before the House, that this was an act of awful unwisdom. I used the word "awful" in its true and pristine meaning. I am concerned, as we are all concerned, by the rising tide of crimes of violence and of killings which I believe have their root in the fact that we abolished the capital penalty for murder.
I endorse something which was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder). I have no doubt that the statistics of murder itself have to some extent—to what extent it is impossible to say precisely—been distorted by the fact that the courts are, for perfectly proper reasons, rather more willing since the abolition of the death penalty to accept pleas of guilty to manslaughter than they were before the abolition of the death penalty. This is my experience, and I have been concerned in defending and in prosecuting many cases of murder over the years.
I do not suggest for one moment that when this happens it is not proper that it should happen. Often the court is faced with the fact that on a reading of the depositions it appears that a jury would almost certainly take the view that at the end of the day a verdict of manslaughter was a proper verdict, even though such a verdict might itself justify a sentence of life imprisonment.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
That statistical fact or element in the appreciation of statistics must be set 1743 against the fact that in the days of the death penalty there was often an acquittal againt the weight of the evidence, and a fanciful doubt mattered when there was the death penalty. A conviction is much more likely now than it was previously.
§ Mr. Grieve
That might appear to be a logical statement, but I am not sure that it reflects the facts. I believe that juries, when faced with the decision that they must make, were no more reluctant before the abolition of the death penalty to return a verdict of murder than they are now and that they were true to their jury oath to return a verdict in accordance with the evidence. This is a great tribute to the integrity and wisdom of English juries. I do not believe that abolition has led, in the sense in which the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested to the House, to an increase in the number of murder verdicts, though I admit that we are in the realm to some extent of speculation.
I share the view to this extent of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood, that the statistics which we should consider are, apart from those of motor manslaughter, which is now so rare that it hardly occurs, those of killings rather than statistics of murder verdicts returned by juries.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
Is there not a curious anomaly at the moment in the reduction of the offence of murder to manslaughter? Under Section 5 of the Offences against the Persons Act, 1861, the court is left with a discretion to impose either a sentence of life imprisonment or one of imprisonment for a fixed term, with the result that someone who pleads guilty or is convicted of manslaughter might well be sent to prison for a longer period than he might have to spend in prison if he were sentenced to life imprisonment.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Grieve
We are again in the realm of speculation as my hon. and learned Friend well knows. We have known many cases in the courts where in response either to a verdict of manslaughter or to a plea of guilty of manslaughter a judge has imposed a sentence of life imprisonment. There are other cases where he has said that it was a serious case and there might be 1744 a sentence of seven, eight or 10 years. It is quite impossible to determine what is the result of the life sentence because of its very flexibility and the fact that the ultimate decision lies with the Secretary of State.
One of the reasons why I oppose the new Clause which was moved so cogently and so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) is that I believe that we should leave the ultimate decisions where life imprisonment is imposed with the Secretary of State. I shall deal for a few moments with the problems that have arisen as a result of the abolition of the death penalty. First, we should not be having this debate at all had the death penalty not been abolished. The debate reflects. I believe, a very real fear throughout the country as well as this House of the results of the abolition, and of the fact that life imprisonment does not appear to the public, and possibly to the criminal —and I think probably to the criminal—to be something which will deter him from killing.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and with others who have said that a great proportion of crimes of murder are committed under the stress of great emotion within the family circle. But there remains a substantial number of crimes of murder committed either by calculating criminals who take arms to effect their ends, to effect their entry or to effect their escape. These people would be deterred by the death sentence and I believe that they were deterred by the death sentence from carrying arms to effect their crimes.
There is also the group of calculating murderers who could not be described as ordinary criminals who are setting out to rob a bank or something like that I refer to the murderer, never having committed a crime in his life before, who determines to commit murder and sets out to do it in a calculating way. In recent weeks I have been involved in a murder trial where there is no doubt that the murder was carefully planned, although the person who was found by the jury to have perpetrated it had never before committed any crime for which he had been brought to justice. These two classes of persons, in my view, are likely to be deterred by the death 1745 penalty and I believe that they are unlikely to be deterred by anything else.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that these particular types of well-planned crimes of violence have increased throughout the world, and particularly in the United States and in most States in the United States which still have capital punishment?
§ Mr. Grieve
I have not studied the statistics in the United States and I am not prepared to accept the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman is asking the House to draw from what he said about statistics in the areas where capital punishment prevails and in those areas where it does not. In this House we must consider the circumstances of this country and the English character as we know it, and as perhaps we can judge it better than we can judge the character in countries in the world which may be different from our own.
I deplored and continue to deplore the abolition of the death penalty. I cannot think that the ills which that has created are likely to be in any way ameliorated by the Clause, though I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for having once again initiated a debate upon this very important subject. Once life imprisonment is substituted for the death penalty for murder, it must be admitted that over the years there may be great changes in the personality of the person who is imprisoned. There may be changes in his attitude towards life as it appears to those who have charge of him. There may he changes in society and in his family circumstances. There may be changes in his mental make up. All these call for flexibility in the determination of the sentence.
The judges already have power to recommend that a minimum sentence be served when they impose a sentence of life imprisonment. It is a discretion which is rarely exercised—for the very reasons I have given, I suggest.
The Home Secretary has done a great service to the House and the country in making it absolutely clear that a sentence of life imprisonment does not mean just nine years, that it is not a light sentence, that there may be people who go to prison for life who will remain in prison for life. I hope that what he said will 1746 be fully publicised. But the ultimate decision must remain, for the reasons I have given, an administrative act by the Home Secretary. While the judge imposing the sentence can see, 10, 20 or even perhaps 30 years ahead, I do not think he can see ahead for the whole lifetime of the individual concerned and foresee all the circumstances which may arise. Although I have great sympathy with the motives of my hon. Friend and those who support the Clause—I should much prefer to see the death penalty restored, with whatever limitations upon it there may be —I cannot support the Clause.
§ Mr. Hooson
This is an important debate, not because the Home Secretary has already stated a view but because of the understandable public disquiet throughout the country over the rise in our crime rate, and particularly violent crime.
But I always think there is an air of unreality about such debates as this. I took part in each debate on the abolition of the death penalty. Unlike the Home Secretary, I was an abolitionist, and I maintained my stance throughout and continued to do so. The unreality in this kind of debate is that we discuss crime only in relation to punishment. We refer to the growth of crime, the increase in violent crime, and discuss only appropriate punishment and not the surrounding causes, the changes in our society, the changes in values in our society, in perhaps the acquisitive society that give rise to crime and the resort to violence in the pursuit of crime. It is regrettable that such debates are largely limited to contributions by people like myself who have considerable legal experience. We lack the contribution of others.
I oppose the Clause for a variety of reasons, but, before I come to them, I must refer to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder), who, unfortunately, is no longer in his place. I listened to the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech with growing astonishment, and I wondered how he could come to make it. I wondered whether I could have been all my adult life in the same profession, and whether I had been to the same courts, and served under the same system.
To suggest that murder cases are now dealt with in a holiday spirit is, it seems to me, to present an utter travesty of the 1747 facts. I am glad to see the hon. and learned Gentleman return, for I am attacking his speech with, I feel, considerable justification. In an intervention, I called grotesque his description of the holiday spirit in which murder cases had to his knowledge been treated. All I can say is that I have spent a long time in the same profession, and I believe that I have been involved in no fewer murder cases than has the hon. and learned Gentleman. For many years I have been on the Wales and Chester Circuit, and I have visited other circuits, as well as doing cases at the Old Bailey.
Never in my experience have I come across anything like the state of affairs which the hon. and learned Gentleman described in the treatment of such cases either by members of his profession or by the judiciary. I suggest that if he had ever been in a case in which a judge or barrister behaved as he suggested it was his plain duty to report the facts to the Lord Chancellor and the Bar Council.
§ Mr. Crowder
In saying that murder cares are tried in a holiday atmosphere, I was trying to impress upon the House that the atmosphere today, with the death penalty abolished, can be fairly described as a holiday atmosphere compared to the terrible tense atmosphere in the days of the black cap and the death penalty. I make no criticism whatever of the way in which Her Majesty's judges or counsel are dealing with murder cases. What I said was that from a practical point of view—one can understand it—it often saves a great deal of time to accept a plea of guilty to manslaughter, whereas in the past no such plea would ever have been accepted.
§ Mr. Hooson
I am sure that the House generally, and the public who might have gained a wrong impression from the hon. and learned Gentleman's words earlier, will be glad to note his intervention now. If he is saying that the oppressive and tense atmosphere of the old murder trial when we had capital punishment has now given way to a more detached relaxed atmosphere, he is quite right. This is why I think that juries are much more likely now to convict in a case where the evidence justifies it than they used to be.
§ Mr. Hooson
I opposed the suggestion made in earlier debates in the House that the judge should be given a right to recommend what the minimum period of imprisonment should be when a life sentence was passed for murder. It is significant that very few judges have exercised that right. I was concerned in the horrible case to which the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) referred. He was Attorney-General, and I was on the other side. It was significant that that great judge, Mr. Justice Fenton Atkinson as he then was, did not exercise that right when, perhaps, most members of the public expected him to.
A moment's reflection shows how impossible it would have been for the judge to make a recommendation in such a case. Would we have a tariff in this class of case? Murder cases vary greatly, from the most terrible and gruesome to a case involving a family situation in which a man of hitherto good character gives way to a sudden passion. How can one compare the two? How can one introduce tariffs?
The suggestion tonight is that we should classify murders, is it not? The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) was. in effect, telling the House that he had in mind the armed robber, for example, who shot his way out of a difficult situation. When in the Homicide Act, 1957 the House attempted to classify murders, it did no good to the law. In fact, to attempt it is impossible and does not allow for flexibility. The taking of another life in circumstances where the crime cannot amount to less than murder is a serious matter, but varies enormously in its degree of seriousness. I do not think the judge is the right person to decide what the length of sentence should be in murder. I have known cases in which I have been faced with a dilemma, as I am sure have other practitioners. One is acquainted with some facts in the case which may not assist the accused if one introduced them in defending the case as to whether the verdict should be murder or manslaughter, but these same facts may be relevant in determining how long he should stay in prison.
What will happen if this Clause is passed? Should one then introduce these factors in a plea in mitigation? If one does, it may militate against the chances 1749 of the accused if the case goes to appeal. On the other hand it may be a relevant factor on length of sentence for the Home Secretary to consider later.
Counsel are not often in this dilemma, but I have known situations where I faced this difficulty. I think it is wrong in this modern age to expect a man—however well qualified a person of great integrity they may be, as a judge —having heard a case to determine alone how long a man should stay in prison on a life sentence.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South, in referring to "faceless and anonymous" people in the Home Secretary's Department, did less than justice to the procedures by which it is determined how long a person should serve in prison on a life sentence. From my knowledge of these matters, there is a very careful investigation conducted by very highly qualified and experienced people and the greatest possible care is taken in determining when a man should be allowed out of prison.
As has already been pointed out, an indeterminate life sentence means that when a man is released he can be recalled. I believe I am right in thinking that there have been cases where a man has been recalled to serve a life sentence although he has not committed another crime.
§ Mr. Carlisle indicated assent.
§ Mr. Gardner
May we know the hon. and learned Gentleman's views about the discretion now given to a trial judge in criminal cases? Is he advocating that the Home Office should in all criminal cases exercise administrative discretion?
§ Mr. Hooson
In all but the most serious crimes it is right that a judge should pass a sentence, but it is equally right that the Home Secretary should have the right to review a long sentence, and in fact he now has this right.
The establishment of the Parole Board was an important step forward. It would be a retrograde step now to put this suggested burden on the shoulders of one judge, however well qualified he may be, to determine the minimum sentence in this kind of situation.
1750 There are murder cases in which I have appeared in which I have found it difficult to imagine circumstances in which a Home Secretary would order the release of the prisoner. However, I have known other people who have committed murder and who, when seen at close quarters appear to be totally different persons from the persons they were when they appeared in court. Therefore, the Home Secretary may take a completely different view of a prisoner.
It would be wrong for the impression to go from this House that anyone on either side is less than seriously concerned about the increase in the crimes of violence. Let it be said in a sense of humility that none of us really knows quite what the answer is to the problem. It is a question not only of punishment but of what kind of society we live in, of the values imported into our houses every day by television, of how society itself reacts to crime—whether it takes it as a matter of interest to be read in the popular Press, or whether it deeply feels about the victims of crimes of violence. All these considerations are of great concern to all of us.
The worst impression that could go from this House is that there are any honourable Members who are not deeply concerned about this matter. It is a mistake to take the easy way out—and this is really what the Clause proposed amounts to—by pandering to the public concern on this matter at a rather superficial level. It is easy for a judge to say in the atmosphere of a trial when he has heard all the facts of the case "I think this man should serve 20 years, and that is the end of it." The public would rather like that. They would like something more determinate. But that is not the answer of a humane and civilised society. We are concerned not only with the accused—and I have appeared in cases where, if the accused had had his deserts, no one could argue that he should not suffer the death penalty—but we are as greatly concerned with society itself.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
I strongly support the views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood (Mr. Crowder), not only in general terms but because I am convinced that this Bill, by creating criminal bankruptcy, makes it even more 1751 likely than it has been in the past that a man will shoot to kill his witnesses since now, under the Bill, he will lose not only his liberty but also his loot.
But having said that, nevertheless as a second best I support the new Clause for one main reason. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) pointed out that the judge's recommendation for a term of years is not binding on the Home Office or successive Home Secretaries. The Home Secretary himself pointed out that a Home Secretary may receive a report from the Parole Board and from the medical experts in charge of a prisoner that he is cured and could safely be released. As my right hon. Friend said, they may be right. But also, as he again said, they may be wrong, and that prisoner thus released on the strong recommendation may in fact kill again.
My right hon. Friend went on to say that he believes that there are some murderers who should never be let out. But, of course, he will not always be Home Secretary. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) said that there is good reason why a person should not be incarcerated for more than 10 years unless his dangerous conduct is likely to manifest itself again. But how can anyone know this with any degree of certainty?
A man's conduct in prison, away from temptation, may be vastly different from his conduct when released. We have all seen prison reports showing that a man has been quite responsible in prison and has had a high degree of privileges, but as soon as he is let out again, with freedom, temptation, drink and so forth at his disposal, he has relapsed into violent crime. The awful thing about it is that some Home Secretaries have shared precisely the view of the hon. Member and may do so again.
Lord Stow Hill, as he now is, referring to persons incarcerated and recommendations that they should be released said as Home Secretary:but when I received reports that he is a person who has accommodated himself well to prison life and that a time has arrived to consider his release, whether it is after nine years of imprisonment, eight and a half, eight or ten years, depending upon the circumstances of the case, I would find it very difficult, in the exercise of my discretion. not to 1752 say that he should be released on licence, particularly if I were told—as indeed I am told, because I consider these reports, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hampstead has done—that if he is kept longer in confinement the chances of his being re-integrated into society grow progressively less and that a deterioration of personality might set in."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st Dec., 1964: Vol 704. c. 927–8.]Those of us on this side of the House who are nervous for the public safety are not pandering to public concern at a superficial level as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) suggests. We are desperately concerned at the rise of violent crime and at the relatively low level of protection which the public now enjoys.
This Clause will give a far greater measure of certainty about punishments for the crime of murder, and those who can be deterred, those who go out in cold blood to commit murder, will think much more carefully before shooting to kill if they know they can get a severe sentence. That is why I support the Clause.
§ Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, East)
All of us are seriously concerned at the rise in the crime rate and all of us would support measures which would have the effect of halting this upward curve. The question is whether this Clause does that. Let us see what it does. When I looked at it, and I keep an eye on South African law, the first think I said to myself was "My goodness, this is a Robert Sobukwe Clause". That is a Clause applicable in South Africa whereby when a man has finished the sentence imposed by a court the State comes along and says "You have got to stay in prison for another few years." The Executive takes over from the court and adds to the sentence.
In this case it is proposed that judges should order a minimum period. That means that the judge will not order a term less than he thinks the crime deserves. He will order what he thinks is a proper term. That being so, this Clause would enable the Home Secretary to come along and say to a man who has done 25 years, which the judge thought was appropriate, "I will, arbitrarily, add a period to that." At present the discretion of the Home Office is only to reduce a sentence. The life sentence can be reduced, but there is no power and never has been for the Home Office to increase a sentence. This Clause would do that.
§ Mr. Grieve
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do not support this Clause, but surely the reverse of what he is saying is the case. What my hon. Friend is proposing is that the judge should say "Life but not less than so much." That does not give an arbitrary power to the Executive to increase; it merely sets the limits beyond which it cannot diminish.
§ Mr. Lyons
With respect, that is really quite wrong. This is not a proposal to fix a determinate sentence as it is normally known. A determinate sentence in this country is characterised by a number of features. First, it is subject to one-third remission for good conduct. This is not proposed here. Secondly, it is subject to the power of the Parole Board to recommend reducing the sentence by up to two-thirds, and again this will not be so. Thirdly, determinate sentences in this country are subject to a right of appeal in a higher court. There is no such right given by this Clause, as indeed the recommendation of the judges under the 1965 Act to keep a man in for a minimum time is not subject to any right of appeal.
This Clause does the following: it says that we will impose a hybrid kind of determinate sentence with no power of appeal, no power to grant one-third remission and no power for the Parole Board to reduce the sentence. What does a recommendation involve at the moment? A recommendation of a term of life imprisonment means that no power of appeal to the higher court is given against the recommendation, but there may be a running argument with the Home Office whether the recommendation is correct. There is no indication that the Home Office would ever allow an appeal against a judge's recommendation. Nonetheless, there is an appeal to the Home Office.
If the recommendation is turned into a firm order that the man must serve a miniumum period, he will not be allowed the privileges of a determinate sentence; namely, going to the Parole Board to reduce the sentence, getting a one-third remission and the right of appeal to the Home Office to reduce the period. In other words, if the judge is wrong, the man will suffer that wrong all the days of his life, the whole period of the sentence, and it is a very long time.
1754 When a judge recommends, as he does occasionally that the man be kept in for a limited period of 25 years, for example, that is equivalent to the recommendation of a sentence of 37½ years. When a bank robber gets 30 years he serves 20 years because of the one-third remission, but when the judge recommends 30 years as the minimum period of incarceration, if that is observed the man serves a period which after the one-third reduction would leave 30 years if it were equivalent to the normal type of sentence. A 30-year recommendation is equivalent to a 45-year determinate sentence, which is effectively a lifetime.
All the Clause amounts to is that the judge no longer has the power to recommend but has the power to order. That suggests that the mover of the Amendment fears that the Home Office cannot be trusted to adhere to the recommendation.
I said earlier that there are few instances where judges have recommended. In Committee my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) said that there had been only seven cases since 1965. If that figure is right, or anywhere near right, it means that judges with the power to recommend have not seen fit to use that power. What is the guarantee that if the recommendation power were turned into a power to order a limited sentence judges would use that power more than they use the power of recommendation? Judges have preferred in murder cases ending in life imprisonment nearly always to leave the matter to the discretion of the Home Secretary. It is assumed by those who sponsor the Amendment—although it is not backed up by a jot of evidence—that if the power to recommend were turned into a power to order the judges would all change their existing view and themselves take the matter out of the hands of the Home Office.
If the Clause were introduced in 20 years' time it would be more relevant, because it would then be possible to see to what extent the Home Office has adhered to the recommendations already made by High Court judges. Until that time the Clause is premature. It introduces a novel principle into the English law enabling the Home Office to increase the sentence which the judge thought was right for the crime. That is the effect 1755 of it. It is not a determinate sentence as it is generally understood that is proposed, and I oppose the Clause.
§ Mr. Michael Havers (Wimbledon)
I wish that the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) was here because, although he and I have been together happily in many cases, I have to disagree with what he said about the atmosphere in court. He corrected it to some extent later, but those of us who spent any time in criminal cases when capital punishment was still in existence found those days very trying. The change in atmosphere is one that is all for the good. I remember in one particular case in which the present Attorney-General led me, taking some 11 days at the Old Bailey, that the strain imposed in the case on the judge, the jury, witnesses and counsel was something I would prefer to forget. All that has happily changed. I welcome the revised view the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-Northwood gave when he intervened later.
I am disappointed that the Home Secretary has said again that no decision will be taken at this stage. He said that he hopes the Criminal Law Revision Committee will shortly report. That is very much what the Committee was told in the early part of March, more than two months ago. I suspect that we shall not get another opportunity for some time to have this Clause incorporated in legislation unless it is done tonight.
Parliament is expected to give a lead in reform and change. Not many years ago this lead was given when capital punishment was restricted and then abolished. No one can deny that many members of the public are disturbed when they feel inadequate sentences are imposed in murder cases. I suspect that the absence of a substantial deterrent, in the minds of the public, causes more worry now than it has for many years.
I am an abolitionist. I am not in favour of restoring capital punishment. To be given the privilege of leading public opinion imposes upon this House the necessary duty to recognise that the lack of general support for the new law be sympathetically considered, so that a balanced view can be put forward when searching for some system which gives 1756 adequate protection for police officers, honest traders, bank staff, all peace-loving families and particularly elderly people living on their own. Their reasonable search for stronger measures can he met by this new Clause.
There is another advantage about which little has been said tonight. When a judge orders a particular period in an ordinary case, the length of sentence he imposes gives to the public an opportunity to appreciate the court's view of the gravity of the crime. In a sense the judge represents the public at large and gives to the public, when he sentences, the feeling that the courts are protecting them. Whether it be right or wrong, the view that is so widely held now is that a life sentence is only a matter of years in single numbers. That means that when a sentence of that sort is passed at the end of a bad murder trial, the public feel that the courts are not able to afford the protection which the public think they deserve.
I suspect that the public have come to accept that a life sentence means no more than a decision by some official in Whitehall, who has to remain anonymous, on how long the person sentenced to life imprisonment will remain in prison. Those who are the internal enemies of the State cannot complain if Parliament supports any sort of measure which effectively punishes them and provides a new sort of deterrent. This is something when one is looking at the majority of murder cases that I accept would not be necessary. Many murder cases arise in almost a spontaneous way. Those are not the cases that the Clause is aimed at. The Clause is aimed at the people who deliberately set out for their own selfish advantage either to enrich themselves or to satisfy some desire, and set out to remove either the obstacle in their way or to take the gamble in the course of enriching themselves that they might have to take a human life. In my view those sort of people would be deterred if they realised this sentence could be passed upon them.
Nothing in the new Clause requires a judge to do this every time. It provides the judge with the opportunity, which at present is lacking, of saying in terms: "This case is so bad that in my view a fixed sentence is necessary for the minimum time that this man must stay in 1757 prison. The life sentence exists all the time, but he must stay there in any event for so long."
The fact that there may not be remission and that parole will not apply will not be overlooked by the judge. The calculations by the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons), that 20 years will mean 30 years and 25 years will mean 37½ years, do not give Her Majesty's judges credit for appreciating that sort of thing when they come to determine the fixed term.
§ For those reasons, I support the Clause.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
One of the wisest remarks in this interesting debate was that made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), that debates and discussions about murder are a little unreal. They are unreal because at the end of the day we shall not come up with an ideal solution. Just as there is no ideal murder, contrary to what the B-feature movies seem to suggest, so there is no ideal sentence for murder because, by its very nature, it is a unique crime. It is the one crime which evokes such passions, feelings and emotions.
If the House were to pass the new Clause the public would be no more reassured. There would still be criticisms. I will explain why. First, we would unwittingly categorise murders once again. By giving certain sentences for different types of murder we would be saying that one type of murder was worth 10 years but that another was worth only eight years imprisonment. We would again be bringing back all the appalling anomalies and injustices which were created by the Homicide Act, 1957.
The public would probably say that an absurdly lenient sentence has been given in a certain case, and the Daily Express would undoubtedly come out with a stormy leader saying that yet again the judges were being soft and the Home Office and other officials were in the hands of do-gooders, which is its constant line. I am convinced that whilst the present system is by no means ideal, it is about as good as we are likely to get.
I am glad that the debate has exploded the theory and myth which is engendered in the public that criminals, particularly the violent criminal whom everybody in 1758 the country abhors, are somehow treated in a soft manner by the judiciary. That is not so. That belief was exploded very firmly by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones), a former Attorney-General.
Why do the public think that the judiciary is soft? People do not come to that conclusion as a result of some instrictive feeling. They come to that conclusion because, sadly, there are people who wish to give that impression. They wish to give that impression because they feel that the only way to deal with crime is by brutal and repressive measures on the criminal. Therefore, they must create an atmosphere which gives the impression that all those in charge of and concerned with the treatment of offenders, whether they be the judiciary, the police, probation officers, or lawyers for that matter, are a bunch of rather soft do-gooders. That is not so.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Question again proposed, That the Clause be read a Second time.
§ Mr. Davidson
That interruption is something unique for me. I am glad of it, as this is probably a very rare occurrence, and in any case I have completely forgotten what I was saying. But I have probably made the point and will pass on to something else.
I find it difficult to agree with one of the arguments advanced by the supporters of the Clause. I always thought that one of the views of the House was that decisions should not be made in a hurry; that there should be time for consideration; that there should be time for second thoughts. The whole method at present adopted of giving life imprisonment for murder to people who are a very special type of people means that over a period of years they can be under constant attention. They can be examined by psychiatrists, and others. Their conduct can be studied by probation officers and by social workers, and ultimately by the experts who sit on the Parole Board. That is right, because we are dealing with 1759 very special people, and a very special type of crime for which a very special punishment should be awarded. It is for all those reasons that I do not think that even if the House were to accept the Clause we would be in any better position, or that the public would feel any happier.
§ Mr. Gardner
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that trying to find an appropriate sentence for murder is extremely difficult. I confess that it is a problem that causes me a great deal of personal concern, and I think it is the kind of concern that is shared by the great majority of people. It would be a great pity if the Bill became law without our touching upon what I believe to be one of the chief defects in our penal system, which is the absence of what many of us feel to be an appropriate sentence for murder. The House ought to be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) for giving us this opportunity to discuss this very important problem, and I congratulate him, if I may, on the lucid and very persuasive manner in which he put forward his arguments in support of the Clause.
When, in 1965, capital punishment was abolished we were left with a critical problem which some years later we still have not solved—the problem of what we put by way of punishment or sentence in place of capital punishment. In making our ultimate decision we ought to be guided by two principles. The first principle is that for violent crime and for murder the protection of the public is more important than is the question of punishment. The second principle is that where a decision has to be taken about whether a person should be deprived of his liberty, that decision should be the decision of a court of law and should not be reduced to the level of a Home Office administrative decision.
I believe that the Clause displays the operation of both those principles and satisfies what I personally believe, and what I understand a number of right hon. and hon. Members would endorse as being necessary to the proper administration of justice.
I think that the present sentence of life imprisonment for murder exposes far too 1760 many defects. They have been well rehearsed in the past, and I hope that the House will forgive me if I briefly sum them up. Life imprisonment is a false title. It does not mean what it says because we all know that people sentenced to life imprisonment do not generally spend the rest of their lives in prison. It is a weak sanction because it gives too easily the hope of relief. I believe that it can he and frequently is, an unjust sentence because it has no flexibility and it does not allow for any judicial variation of the sentence. It is automatic.
I do not want to detain the House because it is getting late and there is much else that we have to discuss in the Bill, but I am moved not only by what I hope is logic to support the Clause, not only by what I deem the hope of improving justice generally, but also by the memory of a number of policemen who have died at the hands of armed criminals. This is not said in any emotional spirit. I believe that it is not so much the past as the future to which we have to look.
I believe that we ought, and indeed we have a duty, to see that we give to our police officers who look after us the best possible protection that the law can afford. There is no doubt in my mind—I may be wrong; I hope I am—that life imprisonment in its present form gives a temptation to the armed criminal who is faced, for example, in an empty lonely street in a city by one policeman. The present sentence presents a peril to that police officer because the armed criminal, seeing before him possibly the only witness of what he has done, and seeing before him the hope, by using his pistol, of getting away with his crime, may well be tempted to blind the eyes, to stop the ears and still the lips of that policeman.
I believe that if we could have a Clause of the kind which my hon. Friend has proposed we could do something to add to and improve the protection which I believe society ought to give to people who put themselves in peril on our behalf, people like policemen and prison officers, and for that reason, and many others, I support the Clause.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
This has been a vitally important debate, not least because 1761 the House should be seen to be discussing a matter on which there is a great deal of public concern.
No hon. Member needs to have had the experience which we in my constituency have had of a particularly brutal police murder to understand the welling up of indignation which comes from ordinary decent people in seeking to find a way to control their emotions when something of that kind occurs. It is inevitable that they will express concern for the rising violence they find around them. It is, therefore, up to this House to give a lead.
No service is done, in giving that lead, by using the shorthand, which is occasionally used, of political discussion which equates where a person stands on the issue of capital punishment with his views on violent crime. This debate has emphasised that every hon. Member is passionately concerned with the rise in violence. Where one stands on the issue of capital punishment has little or nothing to do with one's view on the subject and it would be totally wrong if people were to think of individual hon. Members in that way. Indeed, to equate hon. Members in that way would be worse because it would bring the House into disrepute because people would feel that we were not giving a lead.
There is suspicion that all that could be done has not been done, and this suspicion is true. There are certain cases—some have been mentioned by inference; hon. Members who take an interest in these matters or who are professionally engaged know which cases are involved—in which life imprisonment will mean exactly what it says, imprisonment for the whole of one's life.
In a famous comment immediately after the murder in my constituency Lord Parker, the former Lord Chief Justice, commenting directly on the case, pointed out forcibly that life imprisonment which meant a sentence of imprisonment for the whole of one's life might of itself be a more effective deterrent than capital punishment. Be that as it may, there are certain murders for which life imprisonment must mean natural life.
When one takes the sentence of life imprisonment literally, few can feel that it is an inadequate sentence. Indeed, it 1762 is a powerful and awful sentence to impose on anyone. The life sentences imposed now are subject to review, and we appreciate the concern which is shown at such reviews and we know that the Lord Chief Justice is consulted and, where he is available, the trial judge is also consulted.
Figures currently available show that an increasing number of prisoners are spending longer periods in prison. This is to he expected because we are in the period when more life sentences are being imposed for the most serious offences. It is inevitable that there will be growing numbers of prisoners spending very long periods in gaol.
Not all of this is as well understood outside the House as it is within it. There is concern among people for those particular murders which we can all identify—there is no great difficulty about it—which can broadly be described as murders in the furtherance of crime. Nine out of 10 people who are murdered know the person who murders them. Murder is essentially a family crime in nearly nine out of 10 cases.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
I am sure that the figure is considerably higher than that. But it is those that are left that concern us, the other 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. It is the violent criminals who are concerning us today. That concern is already expressed and Parliament has taken a view on this matter by allowing judges in certain cases, if they wish, to make a recommendation. It has been remarked that in a very large number of cases they make no recommendation and that it is quite right that they should not. Often they do not make a recommendation in the very crimes which the public consider the worst. But they may not be so. The judge, with his experience, realises that there are many reasons why he should not make a recommendation in those cases.
But we can all recognise that certain cases can and should be distinguished from the general run of murder. In those cases we must begin to look at what we do with certain convicted murderers. After the abolition of capital punishment we have been left not with a vacuum but with a rather peculiar situation in that we use exactly the same 1763 form of words in sentencing for all crimes of murder, be it the most minor family murder where there is little or no blame and everyone knows that the murderer will be released in a very short time, or the very worst of murders about which people san say "His just desert is that he should remain in prison for the rest of his life". We must begin to distinguish between the punishments for those different categories of murder. I am not altogether sure that the Clause is necessarily the final way of doing that. I am grateful, however, that we have had the opportunity of considering it tonight
We should make this distinction for two reasons First, I believe that it will bring home to the criminal who seeks to use violence in the furtherance of gain and murders in the pursuit of gain that he will suffer a very severe and long penalty. Although there are complications, on balance it would be worth it to mark our abhorrence of that type of crime. My second reason is not quite as serious but it is one to which the House ought to pay attention. We have to take public opinion with us in dealing with crime, unless we are to be faced with the kind of debate which has debased American politics, on a crime and punishment basis. We must reassure ordinary people that their concerns are recognised. One of the ways that we can do that is simply to make the change which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) proposes; that is, that where a judge now says "I wish to recommend", he has the right to go a stage further and not just to recommend but to specify—to say "This is what should happen"
I do not think that it would happen in many cases, but it would be a valuable weapon in our armoury against the rising tide of violence.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I wish to express my deep appreciation to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the speech he made and his efforts to guide the House to a right decision on the Clause. I have supported the Clause, and still do, but accept that my right hon. Friend detailed with wisdom the necessity for waiting until the House is able to arrive at the best solution to the problem.
1764 The right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) attacked my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) and asserted that he was creating anxiety in the country. I wondered in what detail the right hon. and learned Gentleman had contact with the country. There is no need for anybody to create anxiety in the country. The anxiety is already there. The country will not wait much longer until we can arrive at the right solution.
I have listened to distinguished lawyers arguing today, in fascinating phraseology, the pros and cons of the Clause. I have only the small experience of being a magistrate in a part of the country where, unfortunately, the crime statistics are rising rapidly. There is a need for us to take the right decision, but the points were so legal, so to speak, in the arguments which have been so excellently advanced by so many hon. Members that the country will hardly realise what the pros and cons mean, and the country will not be very appreciative of the debate.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to put a note in his diary to remind himself to take action with those concerned so that a report can be presented to Parliament with a view to all the facts being debated. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that what he said in his admirable speech is made known throughout the length and breadth of the country. That will bring some comfort to the hundreds of thousands of people who are looking for guidance from Parliament and from the Home Office on this problem. It is a matter of urgency. Sometimes it is, I suppose, part of the weakness of democracy that people with knowledge in the House can take the time to discuss all the angles which must be discussed. The country has taken a long time to arrive at its anxieties, and I have noticed in quite a number of important conferences in London this week that the subject has come up for discussion. We know that it is in the minds of the people.
So, apart from guiding us wisely on how to deal with the situation which faces the country on the increase in crime, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary must let it be known with all the emphasis he can, and by the attitude he 1765 expressed so well tonight, of his anxiety and his determination, with a wise decision from Parliament, to deal with the solution which the country is demanding that we face.
I gather that we will not divide tonight, but I say to my hon. Friends who have taken so much trouble to work out the Clause and the arguments in favour of it that we think they have done a very great service because they have brought to a head a matter which we have been discussing, and they deserve our thanks and our appreciation. I feel that we are not now at the parting of the ways but we have crossed the line and we have said that we shall make a wise decision in Parliament which will help all sections of the community to feel freer and more secure and to feel that justice will be done, and that as far as possible we shall wipe away this frightful feeling of insecurity which hangs over the country at the present time.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams (Hitchin)
I have no desire to detain the House for more than a couple of minutes. There are one or two points which should be put at the end of what has been a fairly wide-ranging debate.
There is only one criterion that we as Members of Parliament should apply, because all of us, wherever we may sit, necessarily share the view that our first responsibility must be for the protection of the public. So the only criterion anyone should apply to the Clause is whether or not it is likely to increase the protection of the public.
I want to explain very briefly why I do not believe that it will do anything of the kind and why my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) has expressed his disbelief also. It has not been made clear by the movers whether parole and remission for good conduct would apply to the minimum sentence established. If they applied in the case of a man whose conduct in prison was good and who was able to be considered for parole, the actual length of sentence served would in almost all cases be no different from what it is at present if he was released at the earliest likely time under a life sentence, which is approximately seven to eight years. I do not believe that many judges would set a 1766 minimum sentence longer than three times more than that term, and parole amounts to two-thirds remission with good conduct.
But let us assume, as the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) assumed, that parole is refused in the case of someone who is given the minimum sentence. I must ask the House whether it believes that the kind of professional killer who has been described in such strong terms by a great many hon. Members this evening, in prison with absolutely no incentive to behave well, with no incentive to get parole or remission, would in any way hesitate before taking action against a prison officer which might involve his killing because he would have nothing to lose. I repeat that it is the responsibility of the House to make the job of those men who have to work in high-security prisons with murderers and with people with long histories of violence as safe as it possibly can be. I speak with sincerity in saying that I believe the Clause would make the job of the prison officer not less dangerous but more dangerous among men who had nothing more to lose.
Secondly, it has already been pointed out by the Home Secretary that it is so unusual as to be virtually unknown for a judge's recommendation to be overruled. Both the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge are consulted. When he makes this extremely serious decision, the Home Secretary has the benefit of not only the recommendations of the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge, recommendations which would be binding if the Clause were accepted, but also the reports of prison officers, reports of family circumstances, reports of the governor of the prison, and reports that have been accumulated over many years about the man's behaviour from psychiatrists and others. In other words, he considers not just one aspect, the views of the trial judge, which he is bound to weigh very heavily in his final decision, but a great many other aspects. The Clause would merely remove from him the benefit of all that additional advice without, I suspect, going at all far in practice to strengthen the force of the judge's recommendation.
Thirdly, the House must seriously consider—any Minister who has served in the Home Office is very well aware of this— 1767 how it best protects the public from a man who may return to crime. It is not necessarily the case that the longer the sentence the safer the man is when he is finally released. Almost all expert advice in the prison service and among criminologists is to the effect that there is a time to release a man, and it is not when he has been in prison so long that whatever moral sense he may have has virtually atrophied to the point of disappearance. That time may be eight, nine, 10 or 15 years aftre he starts serving his sentence. As the Home Secretary said, it may never be reached. But what is certainly the case—this is a point that has often been made by prison officers and governors—is that for the man genuinely trying to rehabilitate himself, genuinely trying to change, there is a point at which he is most likely to change, and if we insist on going past that point we have not a less dangerous but a more dangerous man, so embittered against society that he may offend again.
My last point is that surely the House tests something which has been in practice for some little time in terms of its results. The incidence of murder by those who have been released by the Home Secretary while serving a life sentence is so small as to be virtually nonexistent.
The House would be ill-advised to make a change in the light of those facts and if it does it must do so aware that change in itself is not necessarily desirable, aware that it would be making that change without waiting for the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, and aware that it would be making it on the basis of emotion rather than a rational argument.
§ Mr. Fowler
The hon. Lady made a point about an added danger to prison officers as a result of the Clause. The 1768 present situation is that a court can,recommend a minimum period. We have been told that successive Home Secretaries will in most situations—virtually all, it seems—accept that minimum period. Is the hon. Lady therefore saying that the court's power to recommend a minimum period should be taken away as well? That is the logic of what she says.
§ Mrs. Williams
I am not saying that the court's power to recommend should be taken away from it. I am saying that that recommendation should weigh in the final decision, but should not be the sole factor in that decision.
The existence of the licensing powers, which last throughout life, may well be a better protection than keeping a man in gaol longer without being able to license him when he finally leaves.
§ Mr. Fowler
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will agree that we have had a good and valuable debate which has revealed and expressed the great concern which is felt on this subject. I give no ground on the evidence and arguments which my hon. Friends and I have put to the House, but I was impressed by what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, and I express our gratitude to him for the report which he obtained from the Lord Chief Justice.
I noted what my right hon. Friend said about keeping an open mind on the situation until we have a report from the Criminal Law Revision Committee. In the circumstances, while giving notice that we shall want to return to the matter when the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee is available—I emphasise that—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new Clause.
§ Motion, and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.