HL Deb 10 July 1956 vol 198 cc679-843

11.10 a.m.

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion for Second Reading moved yesterday by Viscount Templewood.


My Lords, I must. first of all, apologise to the House because yesterday, owing to a long-standing engagement, I was unable to be here to hear the speeches that were made. I arrived last night only to find that the House had risen. That is a disadvantage made the greater because my name has been put first on the list of speakers today. I suppose that one of the most important factors in this dispute—for dispute it is—is the question whether the death penalty is a greater deterrent than life imprisonment. I feel that we must get it firmly into our minds that the question of whether the death penalty is a deterrent is irrelevant, because this Bill does not propose to abolish punishment for murder; it merely proposes to substitute one punishment for another. That being so, I submit that the only relevant question is whether the one is, or is not, a greater deterrent than the other.

The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack made it quite clear yesterday that, in his opinion and in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, the death penalty is a greater deterrent than life imprisonment. But one of the things that I want to point out today is that, in my respectful submission, the evidence is to the contrary. The noble and learned Viscount said that the Government had reached that view after examining all the evidence. But all the evidence that I can find, broadly speaking, does not support the view of the noble Viscount; it supports the contrary view. I must ask this question: what is the purpose of appointing Royal Commissions and Departmental Committees if the evidence which they produce is to be disregarded or held not to prove the case? I submit that a reading of the available evidence (which I have tried to do) supports only one view; and that is, to put it at its lowest, that it is not proved that life imprisonment would not be an equal deterrent to capital punishment. I know that yesterday there was a dispute as to upon whom the burden of proof lay. It seems to me that the arguments against capital punishment on other scores are so many that in this matter it may be fairly said that the burden of proof lies on those who say the death penalty is a greater deterrent than life imprisonment.

There is another matter which I wish to raise and which I have so far been unable to find was raised yesterday, though I have no doubt that it was mentioned by some supporters of the Bill. I feel more strongly on this point than on any other. The main reason why I support this Bill is that I am firmly convinced that if there were no death penalty there would be a higher percentage of convictions of guilty murderers. I cannot prove that—no-one can; and no-one can prove the contrary. It must be a matter of supposition and reasonable interpretation of court cases. But I am firmly convinced that that is so. If that should be so, it seems to me to be a very strong argument in favour of abolishing the death penalty. A minor result would be that the number of cases committed to Broad-moor would go down; the number of verdicts of "guilty but insane" would, in my opinion, decrease and would be replaced by verdicts of "guilty." I think that would be a desirable result.

I submit that it is not a question of what punishment is to be inflicted upon a man who goes out to commit a murder. What will affect his mind, if anything does, is not whether he is going to be hanged or kept in prison for life. What will affect his mind is whether he is going to be caught and, if so, whether he is going to be convicted. That, I firmly believe; and that, I think, is one of the strongest points in favour of this Bill.

What is the alternative proposed?—life imprisonment. We are often challenged about what we would put in place of the death penalty. I have no hesitation in saying that life imprisonment it must be, and in proper cases—and there are a few such cases—I am perfectly prepared to keep a man in prison literally all his life. I think there are a few, but only a few, men who must be kept in some form of detention for the whole of their lives, and I am prepared to face that possibility. But there are those who say that life imprisonment is worse than death itself. That is quite a permissible view, but it is surely not permissible for those who hold that view also to say that the death penalty is a greater deterrent. I do not think they can have it both ways. If life imprisonment is worse than death itself, then I suppose a man who is reprieved would suffer death. That would be the logical consequence, and the only logical consequence; but nobody has yet suggested that.

I pass to another point which was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, and, no doubt, by other speakers—it is a minor point, but one which might be of great importance in a particular case—and that is the question of punishment of innocent men. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said yesterday that there was no practical possibility of that happening, though there might be a theoretical possibility. We must be forgiven for pointing out the case that occurred the other day, when a man—or more than one—was sentenced to a term of ten years' imprisonment, and was suddenly released and compensated in cash because it was found that he had not committed the crime for which he had been sentenced. We are told that that could not happen in a case of murder. My Lords, why not? We are told that if the Home Secretary had a scintilla of doubt the man would be released. But why does that happen in cases not of murder, and not in murder cases? I cannot follow that argument, and I should be glad if some other speaker against this Bill, or for Her Majesty's Government, could make it quite plain to the House why there is no practical possibility of a miscarriage of justice in murder when there has been one recently in another case.

The question is: Will hanging deter more than life imprisonment? The noble and learned Viscount said it has a "uniquely deterrent" effect—by which I take it he means that hanging, above all other punishments, will deter. But, as I have said already, in my submission experience shows the contrary. I should like your Lordships to think for a moment of this House in session perhaps 150 years ago, the Lord Chancellor of the day and the learned Judges all telling the lay Members of the House that it would be (to use the words that were uttered yesterday) a "disaster" if this Bill were passed; and the lay Members of the House all acting accordingly upon that advice, as indeed well they might. But there is a difference between now and 150 years ago. In those days they did not know that the prophecies to which they were listening would not be fulfilled. They did not know that the statement that it would be a "disaster" would not prove true. We now know that the statements then made were in fact incorrect—that is, the prophecies of what would follow from the abolition of the death penalty in such matters as stealing goods to the value of 5s. I apologise for reiterating this oft-quoted fact, but I think it is relevant.

We now know that what the House was told 150 years ago was wrong. We then look at the experience in this country and in other countries to see whether it will be wrong again. For the life of me, I cannot understand why we are told that we must take no notice of the experience of other countries. From Scandinavia to South America the death penalty has been abolished, and we are told that it is unreliable to base our judgment upon what has happened in those countries. Why? Are the people in this Island so very different, less phlegmatic, more excitable? I cannot understand it. As I say, the Government appoint Royal Commissions, which find out all the facts, but we are told that we must not take notice of those facts for our own country.

I should like to take, of the overseas countries, two cases where in one country, in a single country, there are two systems—namely, Australia and the United States. In Australia we have one abolitionist State out of the six. Are we not entitled to compare the results in that one State with those of the other five? What we find is that murder is no more prevalent since the abolition of the death penalty in that one State than it is in any other State. What of the United States, where six out of forty-eight States, I think it is, have long since abolished capital punishment? We are told that the police in those six States are, if anything, safer as they go about than the police in the other forty-two States. Are we completely to disregard that sort of evidence? What of our own country? In 1948, as is well known, the death penalty was suspended for a matter of, I think, eight months. What happened? It was admittedly a very short time, but what happened? The number of murders did not go up; if anything, it went down. This year a Resolution was passed in another place clearly indicating that legislation would shortly be introduced to abolish the death penalty. In the next three months following that Resolution, what happened? The murder rate did not go up; if anything, it went down. I ask once more, are we completely to disregard the evidence that has been accumulated, with so much trouble and experience, from all parts of the world, including our own country?

We are told by many speakers that, if the death penalty is abolished, there will be an increase in the carrying of arms that criminals will go about armed and will use arms, and that it might be necessary to arm the police. None of those things has happened in other countries. I respectfully challenge any noble Lord to prove that they have, because I am firmly of the opinion, having read what evidence is available, that they have not. None of those things has happened. In fact, the only countries in Europe in which the police go about armed are now, broadly speaking, the States which have not abolished the death penalty—mostly France and Spain.

Finally, I would ask this question. This Bill legislates for an experiment for a limited time. I would earnestly ask, why not try the experiment? This is a difficult matter, a very controversial matter, a matter in which we have vitally opposed opinions. Here is an opportunity to see who is right. Why not try to see who is right? What could be the worst possible results from this trial? I have asked myself that question, and I think it is a fair one. What is the worst that could happen if we abolished the death penalty for five years under this Bill? The worst that can happen is an outbreak of murder and serious crime. It is possible—of course it is. But it is highly improbable, because all previous experiments have not resulted in that happening. Therefore, I feel justified in prophesying that it certainly would not happen. But if it did, your Lordships could pass an Amending Act. I have been present in this House when an Act of Parliament has gone through all its stages in both Houses in one day. It could be done again.

I have spoken of the worst that could possibly happen if this Bill were passed. What is the best? We could see once and for all who was right in this matter. If I am wrong, I and all those who speak with me will be silenced for good. I say that without hesitation, because I am convinced that I shall not be wrong. But time alone will show. Time can show—your Lordships can allow it to show. I earnestly plead with you, therefore, to allow this experiment to see who of us are right—those who favour the retention of the death penalty or those who do not. I speak with confidence today, not because I think we shall win the Division tonight but because it is only a question of time, and not a very long time, either, before the death penalty is abolished in this country—of that I am firmly convinced. In that conviction I am supported by all the history that I can find upon this matter. It all points to the one direction that before long this blot on our civilisation, this relic of a barbaric age, will be removed from the Statute Book

11.27 a.m.


My Lords, I hope it may be of some little help to your Lordships in coming to a conclusion on this difficult matter if I intervene now for as short a period as I can manage, to deal with one or two of the points as they directly affect my own Department which were raised in the most interesting debate which we had in your Lordships' House yesterday. If I begin upon the defensive, it is only because it is so often alleged that the Home Office is bitterly opposed to the abolition of capital punishment. The Home Office is even believed to be in favour of hanging for its own sake, and manages apparently to pervert (at least for a time) one Home Secretary after another. This suggestion would, if it were true, be of little credit to the strength of character and firmness of purpose of those who rise to the high and honourable office of Home Secretary. In point of fact, it just is not true.

I wonder whether it may not be that, confronted with the special responsibilities, the heavy responsibilities, for internal peace and good order which rest with any Home Secretary, some of them hesitated about the wisdom of the course which they had formerly thought to be right. The question whether capital punishment should continue is not decided by officials, however able and experienced, or by the Home Secretary, however distinguished; it is a question of Government policy which is decided on the collective responsibility of the Queen's Ministers. The function of officials is no more than that of assembling the relevant facts and considerations, laying them before Ministers and, if needs be, suggesting a course of action. This much I have felt bound to say in defence of those officials who cannot speak for themselves.

I wish to make it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that the policy which the Government are now advising your Lordships to adopt, and which I myself, after careful thought, support as strongly as I ever did, is their own policy, and one for which they take, and must take, full responsibility. It is, I think, also right for me to remind your Lordships—I am authorised by the Home Secretary to say this—that every effort is made in capital cases to find mitigating circumstances sufficient to justify a reprieve. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Oaksey, reminded the House, in a most telling speech yesterday, the transcript of the trial, the medical reports, the police reports, the convicted person's character and antecedents—and indeed any representations made on his behalf—are all carefully studied, if necessary in consultation with the trial judge, to see whether there are any grounds which would justify a decision to interfere with the due course of law. If there are no mitigating circumstances, there may be, very occasionally, a flicker of doubt about the convicted person's guilt. If there is such doubt, even though it may not be enough to warrant a reversal of the conviction, it is enough to warrant a decision not to carry out the irrevocable sentence. Where there is no doubt of guilt, the fullest possible weight is given to anything that can be found to extenuate the crime.

My Lords, I think this will satisfy even the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, that this is a very different state of affairs from that which affects any other crime than murder. It is my firm conviction that this meticulous examination not only provides a powerful safeguard against an innocent man being hanged, but also achieves a remarkably close conformity between the judgment of the public on the types of murderer who ought to hang and the infliction of the death penalty in actual cases.

I turn now to the position of the police and the prison officers, towards whom the Government, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, in particular, have a special responsibility. These are the public servants who may be at more particular risk if capital punishment is abolished. Already they perform a pretty tough and thankless task, and I feel that we ought not to increase their difficulties. If capital punishment is abolished, are your Lordships really sure that more criminals will not arm themselves. The Royal Commission recorded that the representatives of the police and the prison service, who, after all, know a good deal about the criminal class, were almost unanimous in believing in the uniquely deterrent effect of capital punishment on professional criminals. They thought that the existence of capital punishment was the main reason why criminals in this country not merely refrain from using lethal weapons but take care not to carry them, lest they may be tempted to use them. Not merely that; it does not take much imagination to see how strong the temptation might be if there were no death penalty. To the professional criminal, the policeman who catches him represents the certainty of a long stretch, possibly fourteen years' preventive detention. If he hurts the policeman he may win his freedom: at the most he will serve a few extra years. Freedom is obviously worth the risk.

We have been told in the course of the debate that American research has shown that their policemen are not at greater risk in abolitionist than in non-abolitionist States. That may be so; but I wonder whether that is really relevant to our own situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, pointed out in the course of a most powerful speech yesterday, the police in America are usually armed, and the most immediate deterrent against shooting at them may well be the certainty that the police will shoot back. One cannot usefully compare the situation here, where killing policemen provokes no immediate retaliation but involves a high risk of conviction and execution, with the situation in countries where the immediate risk is great but the risk of ultimate conviction and execution may be less. The importance of capital punishment as a deterrent is entirely different in the two sets of circumstances. At present, one British policeman is murdered on the average every two and a half years. That is one too many, but at least it is only one. Are your Lordships quite sure that if capital punishment were abolished the number would not be higher?

In another place, a provision was at one stage inserted in the Bill preserving the death penalty for murder committed by a person serving the sentence of life imprisonment. One or two of your Lordships yesterday pointed out that there was no record of any such murder. I cannot give any particular weight to that argument. The records show that since 1920 there have been six murders by men in prison, and that two of them have been murders of officers in prisons or Borstal institutions. There have also been many violents assaults which might well have resulted in the death of the victim. While none of these murders has been committed by men serving life imprisonment, your Lordships will bear in mind that, hitherto, those criminals who are prima facie most likely to commit such a crime have, in fact, been hanged. If this Bill passes, the situation of course will be very different. Among those serving life imprisonment there will then be many more men with a latent tendency to violence. Are your Lordships sure that there will not then be much greater risk of prison officers being subjected to murderous assaults? This Bill, of course, does nothing to protect them. Your Lordships will, I am quite certain, think carefully before allowing the police and the prison officers to be placed in greater hazard.

There was much talk yesterday about statistics. The Royal Commission, after the most exhaustive inquiry, concluded that the statistics afforded no proof that capital punishment is a unique deterrent. But this does not mean that the statistics prove that capital punishment is not a unique deterrent; it means merely that the statistics are incapable of proving either proposition. There are three reasons for this which I should like your Lordships to bear in mind. The first is that in a complex society the murder rate is affected by a number of factors—moral, social and economic—of which the penalty is only one. That one factor is impossible to isolate; it is impossible to tell whether a change in the murder rate after abolition occurs because of abolition or in spite of it, or is unrelated to it. The second reason is that in many countries capital punishment fell out of use long before it was formally abolished, and there is, therefore, no clear starting point for a comparison of the state of affairs before abolition and after it. The third reason is that in many countries the statistics are simply not kept in a form which throws light on this problem. The most relevant figure for the purpose is the number of murders known to the police, but that figure is not commonly kept abroad, and the figures which have to be used instead are less closely related to the number of murders that actually occur.

Finally on this point, even if the foreign statistics were more revealing than they are, they would still not necessarily be a guide to the effect of abolition in this country, where conditions are quite different from those in most of the abolitionist countries. But because statistics throw no light on the problem, that does not mean that no light is to be had. Surely we do not need statistics to tell us that men fear death and will avoid it if they can. Can your Lordships doubt that men fear death more than imprisonment, and that the prospect of probable death will deter those capable of being deterred more effectively than any other punishment we can inflict? The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, in a typically calm and careful speech yesterday, urged on your Lordships the view that if the death penalty cannot be proved to be a unique deterrent, then its maintenance cannot be justified. But I would respectfully submit to him that the onus should be the other way round. Common sense surely suggests that the death penalty is a unique deterrent. With it we in this country have the lowest homicide rate in the world. Surely it is for those who would abolish it to show that we can do so without endangering the peace and order of the community.

I turn now to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary's responsibilities towards the pubic. One of his main responsibilities is for the peace and order of the community. In this context, I believe that "the Queen's Peace" includes the peace of mind of the public, and, in particular, of the elderly and the defenceless. I respectfully commend that suggestion to the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Exeter. At present we have in Great Britain the lowest homicide rate in the world. Police and prison officers are, thank heaven! rarely murdered; and murder is regarded with peculiar loathing. We are now being asked to remove what the Government believe to be an important safeguard of this fortunate state of affairs; to accept assurances, based on experience of more than doubtful relevance, that no evil consequences will ensue, and to take the risk that, if the abolitionists are wrong, innocent people will pay for the mistake with their lives. The Government are just not prepared to accept this risk.

Finally, my Lords, may I offer a word on public opinion? Public opinion on this subject is peculiarly variable, and is liable to be influenced by some recent murder in which particular sympathy is felt for the victim, or by a recent execution in which particular sympathy is felt for the murderer. The fluctuations in Gallup Polls in recent years have illustrated this point quite clearly. For example, a poll in October, 1953 (just after the Christie case), showed 73 per cent. in favour of the death penalty; another in July, 1955 (just after the execution of Ruth Ellis), showed only 50 per cent. in favour and 37 per cent. against.

There is at least some risk that abolition would be followed by further increases in violence and sexual crime, possibly accompanied by some murders of a particularly shocking kind. Even though there might be no clear connection between the trends of these particular crimes and abolition, the public might nevertheless demand the reintroduction of capital punishment. Your Lordships may have noted the experience of those countries that have abolished capital punishment and have then had to reintroduce it. We do not want that to happen here. Judging from the survey of the Royal Commission, what happened in some of those countries was that capital punishment was abolished before public opinion was ready for it; and public opinion made itself felt only after abolition. Then, shocked by a few brutal crimes, the public pressed effectively for the reintroduction of capital punishment, even where there was no direct evidence to suggest that abolition had been responsible for an increase in the number of murders.

Is there no danger of that happening here? At present, of course, we hear most from those who favour abolition; their voice has been eloquent, sincere and organised. After abolition we should probably hear most from those in favour of reintroduction. It is, I think, worth remembering that in several abolitionist countries, capital punishment had fallen out of use long before it was abolished in law, and public opinion had become accustomed to the idea of abolition gradually. It is a very different matter to make a sudden break with the past. and to do it at a time when, unhappily, the use of violence appears to be on the increase.

I believe that capital punishment ought not to be abolished unless there is overwhelming public support for the change; otherwise there may well be a revulsion of feeling, which will insist on the change being reversed. Public opinion is not yet overwhelmingly in favour of abolition. Public opinion, unorganised, but now more aware of the full implications of this dreadfully difficult and very personal problem, still seems to be strongly against abolition. I am not one of those who suggest for one moment that Parliament should always slavishly follow public opinion and never give a lead, but in this case I am convinced that public opinion is right.

11.45 a.m.


My Lords, I am sure we must all be grateful for the very temperate way in which the noble Lord representing the Home Office has put his case, and I am sure also that we all feel the force of what he says about the officials of the Home Office and about successive Home Secretaries. No-one who knows the present Horne Secretary could be in any doubt about his great humanity or his reluctance to consent to the retention of the death penalty as the sentence for murder unless he was profoundly and morally convinced.

But, my Lords, as the noble Viscount who introduced the Second Reading said, there has been since 1948 a great change in the information and in the opinion of the public. The Royal Commission sat for over four years. They acted with immense industry. They showed, I think, in the general opinion, very great judgment and wisdom. It is impossible to brush aside the Commission's arguments and their statements of fact. It is impossible to bring back, as some outside, as well as inside, this House have brought back, old pre-war arguments as though no Royal Commission had sat.

The foundation of the Royal Commission's findings, and of the position in which we are ourselves today, is the unanimous finding that it is impracticable to find a satisfactory method of limiting the scope of capital punishment by dividing murder into degrees, and the unanimous conclusion that the issue is now whether capital punishment should be retained or abolished. The Royal Commission were not asked to declare on capital punishment per se, but they assembled all the material bearing on, I think, all aspects of murder required to enable responsible citizens to form a considered judgment.

I agree that there are circumstances in which it is right for the State to take the life of a criminal citizen, for fundamental reasons, such as the real and ultimate security of the community. I also agree that it is essential that the penalty for murder should express public revulsion at the crime in no uncertain way. It is when we come to the question of whether the death penalty is the indispensable deterrent that we find ourselves in the region of greatest importance and difficulty.

This problem of deterrence was fully treated in the Report of the Royal Commission, particularly in Appendix 6. Murder is a terrible crime, but it is not a homogenous crime, and Table I, which gives an analysis of the motives or causes of murders committed by all persons convicted for the twenty years ending in 1905, has been examined by Sir John Macdonell. He points out in this Appendix that there are more murders committed on Saturday than on any other day of the week, that nearly half the murders are committed between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. He says: I am inclined to think that this crime is not generally the crime of the so-called criminal classes, but is in most cases rather an incident in miserable lives in which disputes, quarrels, angry words and blows are common. The short history of most, he says, is domestic quarrels and brawls; much previous ill-treatment; drinking, fighting, blows; a long course of brutality and continued absence of self-restraint. He then says, however—and here is the problem—that There is … a clearly marked class of murders, of rare occurrence, the motive for which is robbery, committed by habitual criminals as forming the climax and usually the termination of a career of crime. Table 2 offers an analysis of the victims of persons convicted of murder for the first fifty years of the present century. Of a total of 1,210 murders examined, murder again is shown not to be in general a crime of the so-called criminal classes. The wife or husband was murdered in 211 cases; the mistress or lover, in 180; 44 cases were murders involving sexual assault; 30 were murders of a woman for revenge or jealousy. There were also murders of parents and of children. The conclusion drawn is that, at most, about 20 per cent. of the convicted murderers were professional criminals. And it is for these that the practical question arises.

The noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack summed up the evidence, as has been already pointed out, in a very clear way. He gave his opinion in one direction. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, gave his opinion in the opposite direction. It seems that most people find it impossible to come to a conclusion either way on the basis on those statistics; but this is a very important fact to which the Royal Commission call attention, and accordingly it is important to view this question in perspective and not to base penal policy in relation to murder on exaggerated estimates of the uniquely deterrent force of the death penalty.

There is a powerful argument, which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, advanced very fairly, that abolition would make it extremely likely for habitual criminals to carry arms. There is something to be said on the other side. It is a matter which is open either way, but I would call attention to some important evidence given to the Royal Commission by Professor Sellin of the United States, who is Secretary-General of the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission—a man who speaks with great authority. In answer to this particular question, put to him while he was being examined, he pointed out that in May, 1950, a few months before he gave evidence. Austria removed the death penalty from its Statute Book. He said that some of the strongest arguments for that came from the police. In recent years there had been several killings of policemen, and these police officers thought that the presence of the death penalty in the law was such a threat to certain types of offender that they would go to extremes in attempting to avoid capture. The police thought that if the death penalty were removed there would be less danger to them. It is an interesting argument in a quite contrary direction. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, also called attention to, and questioned the value of experience in the United States, where habitual criminals and gangsters carry arms regularly in all States, whether they are retentionist or abolitionist; but Professor Sellin adds this comment: The gangster is apparently not deterred by the existence of the death penalty. He relies upon possible immunity and the intimidation of witnesses. It is always the hope of escape which counts. It is difficult to make a comment on the opinions advanced by the Judiciary but I am encouraged by what was said yesterday by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keith of Avonholm, who pointed out that the whole question is a social one. I should like to quote a statement made in 1819 by a Select Committee which was dealing with criminal laws raising these various questions. They said: Highly as the Committee esteem and respect the Judges, it is not from them that the most accurate and satisfactory evidence of the effect of the penal law may reasonably be expected. They only see the exterior of criminal proceedings after they are brought into a Court of Justice. Of the cases which never appear there, and of the causes which prevent their appearance, they can know nothing. From any opportunity of observing the influence of punishment upon those classes of men among whom malefactors are most commonly found, the Judges are, by their station and duties, placed at a great distance. I would also call attention to an important Memorandum of Evidence given to the Royal Commission by the Council of the British Medical Association. They suggest that there should be a really scientific inquiry into the efficacy of the deterrent theory of punishment, so widely held today. It might well prove fruitful and possibly have surprising results.

I conclude with a reference to public opinion, with which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, also concluded his admirable speech. Again it is a matter of opinion, but I believe one can detect a change in opinion and that dislike of the death penalty is steadily mounting. I believe that reflection is partly responsible for this; certainly the work done by the Royal Commission has a great responsibility. Much more study with regard to the facts is now possible, and the conversion of the Chairman. Sir Ernest Gowers, from a neutral to an abolitionist position, already often remarked upon, is very impressive. Charges of view have also been confessed to your Lordships in the course of yesterday's debate. It seemed to me that one of the most impressive conversions was that of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. I need not remind the House of how shocked he was by the absence of a much greater use of the reprieve and how he felt driven thereby to advocate abolition.

May I call attention to the Episcopal Bench? In 1930 Archbishop Temple was the only Bishop known to favour abolition, and he was considered a quite extraordinary person in this regard—an extraordinary exception to the common run. In 1948, in the debate in this House, the speakers from this Bench were three to one against abolition. Today I think it will be found before the debate comes to an end that, for different reasons, all the speakers from this Bench are in favour of abolition. We cannot neglect the evidence that there have been no adverse results from the abolition of the death penalty for lesser offences in the last century. The same arguments were used then as are now used; there was the same reference to the fact that, more or less, one could not change human nature and that the preservation of the penalty was essential in the interests of public security. In the end the question comes down to the strength of popular belief and sentiment. Professor Sellin, after speaking of the lack of evidence that the death penalty has either a favourable or an unfavourable effect on homicide rates, said: When a people no longer likes the death penalty for murderers it will be removed, no matter what may happen to the homicide rates. I hope that this House will agree to remove the death penalty from the Statute Book as a penalty no longer tolerable in a civilised State.

11.59 a.m.


My Lords, it will hardly have escaped your Lordships' attention, particularly after the speech to which we have just listened, that there are a great many Bishops in your Lordships' House. I sometimes wish that the Episcopal Bench would distribute its favours more evenly instead of leaving us for weeks at a time without a glimpse of a lawn sleeve save for the transitory appearance of the Reader of Prayers, and then descending in such goodly numbers on an occasion such as this. Not long ago we were discussing the Road Traffic Bill, an attempt to abate the road massacre, a moral problem at least as grave as this which we are discussing today—at any rate one responsible for many more deaths. But there were no Bishops present on the Bench. To-day there are six or more, and as the debate has shaped, as the right reverend Prelate has just told us, the odds are that the Bishops will vote one way and the lawyers the other.

I have a great respect for Bishops and lawyers. They are both eminently respect-worthy classes, and on the whole I respect Bishops, if I may say so, more than lawyers. Also, I am, I hope, a loyal Anglican, and as a loyal Anglican I turn naturally to the Episcopal Bench for guidance in moral problems. But on this occasion, despite my respect for Bishops (I sometimes remember the words of my old friend John Drinkwater who wrote: "When a Bishop looks at me I tremble with propriety"), I propose to vote with the lawyers. And since there will be a good many noble Lords who, like me, feel that the weight of the argument on secular grounds is overwhelmingly against the acceptance of the Bill, yet feel uncomfortable about voting against the episcopal consensus, I propose to devote the very short draught which I am about to make upon your Lordships' patience to trying to show that there is ample and sufficient Anglican authority for voting against this Bill. Needless to say, I am not attempting to set up my opinions against those of the Episcopal Bench. All I am seeking to say is that on the secular controversy a Bishop, or even an Archbishop, is no greater authority than a Lord Chancellor and that on the moral and the religious aspect (if there is a religious aspect) of the controversy there is Anglican authority which seems to me on this particular problem to be higher than any of which we have yet heard in the course of this debate.

Surely it is of paramount importance in dealing with a problem of this kind that there should be first-hand experience of the raw and terrible realities involved in capital punishment. And when we come, as we can come, to a dedicated Christian who has spent many hours in the death cell and on the scaffold with condemned murderers, surely his opinion must count very heavily against that of however distinguished an armchair critic. The first authority—but very much the less important—which I wish to cite is that of a book which I should have thought would have been quoted by now in this debate. I do not think it has been, although I have not read Hansard fully and I was not here throughout the whole of yesterday. This book is the autobiography, published only a few months ago, of an Anglican priest, the Reverend Braden Ball. He was for twenty-five years prison chaplain at Dartmoor and later at Wandsworth, and consequently it fell to his lot to prepare many murderers for execution. The title of the book is Prison was my Parish. It is not a controversial document. It is a straight autobiography, and its author was evidently a dedicated Christian who devoted his life to this particular task because his chief concern was for the saving of men's souls. He makes it abundantly clear that he is convinced from his knowledge, not only of murderers but of the criminal classes in general, that capital punishment is a supremely effective deterrent.

Incidentally, he roundly denies certain statements which have been made more than once in the course of this debate. He flatly contradicts that the prison population—at any rate within his experience—is painfully affected by the taking place of an execution in the prison. He flatly denies that, within his experience, prison officers are brutalised by their duties. But these are only incidentals. My point is that here is a dedicated Christian who has had far ampler opportunities of observing the effects, good and ill, of capital punishment at close quarters than probably any of us in this Chamber, and he is convinced that capital punishment should be retained and that it is compatible with the teachings of his Church.

My second authority is far higher. Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln, who died in 1911, was mentioned by the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York, but he did not tell us why the opinion of Edward King on this particular topic is of unique significance. In the first instance, Edward King was an unmistakable saint. The Church of England does not canonize but it has got as near as it can to canonizing Edward King. Throughout the more than forty years which have passed since his death, his anniversary has been remembered at a service of solemn thanksgiving in his diocese. As Dr. Sangster in his recent study of sainthood wrote: To this day men and women kindle at the mention of his name. Henry Scott Holland wrote of him: The room was lit into which he entered. Even to recall him for an instant in the bare memory was enough to set all the day alive and glittering. Edward King was not merely a saint but he was also a very learned man. He had been for twelve years Professor of Pastoral Theology at Oxford. He might therefore have been supremely qualified to judge on this problem, even if—and this is what the most reverend Primate did not tell us—he had not had first-hand personal experience of the death cell and the scaffold. Two years after he became Bishop of Lincoln, Edward King heard that a young fisherman from Grimsby was lying under the death sentence in Lincoln gaol, and that the task of preparing this young man for his end was proving beyond the strength of the prison chaplain. Edward King, characteristically, took the case into his own hands. He spent many hours with the young man in the condemned cell and eventually accompanied him to the scaffold. There is a man who, with his supreme holiness, his learning and his direct personal contact with the raw realities of this problem was surely qualified to tell us what should be the moral and the religious view.

And if Edward King had shown any sign of thinking that capital punishment should be abolished, I personally should have jettisoned all the conclusions at which I had arrived on the secular aspects of the controversy. But, on the contrary as the most reverend Primate told us, Edward King continued to believe in capital punishment. Indeed, after he had come to spiritual grips with that young Grimsby fisherman, the first murderer of whom he had experience, after he found that he had no knowledge of religion and scarcely any knowledge of right or wrong, after he had set himself to teach this young man the unseen realities of life and death, forgiveness of sin and from the parable of the prodigal son, after he had prepared him for confirmation, confirmed him, heard his confession and prepared him for his first and last Communion, it transpired that a petition for reprieve was afoot. The Bishop was gravely exercised as to whether he should sign it. He wrote: The prisoner must not think his punishment unjust. He must be made to know that he has incurred the just punishment for an awful crime. Yet he felt that if he refused to sign the petition for a reprieve he might lose his influence over the prisoner. After consulting the judge, he signed the petition but the Home Secretary rejected it. King went with the young man to the scaffold. There is a saintly and learned man who was in closer contact with the problem your Lordships are discussing this afternoon, probably than any speaker who has addressed us. He was convinced that capital punishment should be retained. My Lords, there is much else I should like to say on this subject, but I hope I have said enough to suggest to some noble Lords who may be convinced on the secular arguments and doubtful as to the weight of authority, that there are at any rate some good Anglican authorities for a vote against the passing of this Bill.

12.10 p.m.


My Lords, a remarkable fact about the proposal contained in the Bill is that it has twice been passed in another place after an interval of years in which there have been three Elections with a steadily increasing Conservative majority. Having fought in two of those Elections, I think I can say that the public were not violent on this subject one way or the other. At my Elections I made my position clear. I had only one question in the course of those Elections on this subject and I said that I was in favour of abolition. I am quite sure that the voters who returned me and turned the Socialists out were not deterred by that in any way whatsoever. I think there is a change in the younger Conservative element in this country on this point, because since the abolition of capital punishment was proposed in the Criminal Justice Bill (now the Criminal Justice Act, 1948), there has been serious debate among thinking people on the intellectual plane.

The evidence given before the Royal Commission, and the conclusions of that Commission, have given many arguments for thoughtful people who favour abolition. It has proved, or at least failed to prove, the main assumptions of the retentionists. There appears to be, over wide parts of the world, an irrelevance between the number of murders and the existence or otherwise of capital punishment. The Royal Commission say: The general conclusion which we have reached is that there is no clear evidence in any of the figures we have examined that the abolition of capital punishment has led to an increase in the homicide rate or that its reintroduction has led to its fall. There is no evidence that this is a unique deterrent. Surely, otherwise, there must have been one of the many countries in the world where the murder rate would have risen after the abolition of capital punishment. They cannot all be different from this country.

Then the Commission held that there was no evidence that the abolition led to the arming of criminals, or that murderers were likely to commit offences in prison—in fact, they tended to be better behaved than the average. There was no evidence that the presence of murderers in prison raised any real difficulties for the prison authorities. Although one noble Lord said it had been necessary to keep them in solitary confinement it was shown that in the country he mentioned it had been given up many years before. The increase in the prison population, if every murderer were reprieved, would be no more than 1 per cent. of the existing population of the prisons. Surely that is a figure which can be dealt with perfectly easily. There is no evidence that those other countries where abolition has taken place are pastoral countries with widely scattered populations and, therefore, different from ours. The evidence is that the murder rate is exactly the same in great cities and in the most remote parts of the country.

The other thing which I think has influenced opinion is that there have been three serious books written on this subject. The first was by Sir Ernest Gowers, an austere civil servant, no sentimentalist, who, having heard all the evidence, and starting with no prejudiced view, wrote a most weighty book. We have had another book by a leading Queen's Counsel. Mr. Gardiner, and a third by one of the most respected journalists, Mr. Arthur Koestler, who wrote one of the most remarkable anti-Communist books written in this country. He, of course, wrote with a certain amount of emotion, as he had been under sentence of death during the Spanish Civil War. I prefer to take the cool, dispassionate conclusions of Sir Ernest Gowers. There has been no rebuttal of the arguments and facts produced in those books; no book has been written on the other side and no serious critic has been able to make a dent in that massive body of opinion, fact and argument.

The evidence given before the Royal Commission showed that there appears to be a gap between judicial opinion and more modern medical opinion on these topics. While the Judiciary were in favour of sticking to the Macnaghten Rules, we have modern medical opinion saying that there has been an imperceptible gradation between lunacy and sanity. It really shocked opinion, I think, when a murderer who had been declared insane by the medical officers of two prisons was none the less hanged.


Can the noble Viscount give the name in that case?


The name was Rivett. With the utmost respect for the Lord Chief Justice and his colleagues, there has been a shock to thinking opinion to find this very considerable gap when the Lord Chief Justice himself said, in the case of Mr. Ley, that he had no doubt the prisoner was insane and yet he thought it very proper that he should have been hanged. I am quoting from the actual evidence which the Lord Chief Justice gave.

There have been so many borderline mental cases that, 50 per cent. of the murderers executed, have had some case of mental abnormality in their history. We hear that every benefit of the doubt is given, yet in the five-years' survey, containing 85 cases, 14 murderers who had been recommended to mercy by the jury were, none the less, hanged. How can it be said that every possible excuse is seized to grant a reprieve when that happens? We all sympathise with Home Secretaries in this very distasteful duty. But I think the public would be shocked at the case of Ruth Ellis, the woman who had had a miscarriage induced by an assault from her lover who put her "in the family way." Women are disturbed enough mentally after the most normal childbirth, so that with a miscarriage she could not have been regarded as wholly sane and with no element of lunacy. We had the case of Bentley, a nineteen-year-old feeble-minded epileptic, who as a child had been dug out of a bombed house with head injuries. Then we have seen the long procession of executions of the mentally abnormal—psychopaths, epileptics, mental defectives, hysterics, sex maniacs, depressives, paranoiacs and schizophrenics.

It may be said, of course it was said by Hitler, that criminal and mental defectives are so absolutely hopeless that it is right to rid society of such abnormal people; but if there has been one sphere in which medical science has made great advances in our lifetimes it is in the treatment of mental disease. Shock treatment, insulin, leucotomy, provide the possibility that people who have been abnormal can, under treatment, have a chance of becoming perfectly normal people in the end. I think that those are some of the factors which have disturbed public opinion. I think that the Evans and Christie case, on which I do not pronounce a view, one way or the other, was surely one in which, if all the facts had been known at the time, there must have been a scintilla of doubt. And that case rather worried the public.

While the thinking public opinion have been very worried about the administration of the law, about this gap between the attitude of the judges and the attitude of modern medical science and the way in which the Prerogative has been used, there is one major argument that supporters of this Bill have to answer—that is, that there is a class of professional criminal who will take up arms and start murdering the police and innocent people if this "unique deterrent" is removed. That is the grave question that was put so eloquently by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor yesterday.

There is the evidence of other countries that in no case where capital punishment has been abolished have the feared consequences followed. There is this further fact: a burglar who commits an ordinary burglary has a rather small police effort put after him. A burglar who kills anybody, in contrast, has the full, undivided effort of the entire police force after him; and therefore there is always that deterrent—the deterrent of a far greater likelihood of conviction. By the nature of things the police cannot put their whole manpower effort into every burglary as they can and do into every murder. That must always remain a deterrent. It makes the possibility of apprehension far greater. And I think it is well within the powers of the Judiciary to make a far longer sentence and of the Home Office to enforce a far longer sentence in the case of any professional criminal armed than in the case of one who goes unarmed.

It is right and proper, however, that the judges and the Home Office should, be cautious. They spend their lives dealing with crime, and it becomes a very important part of their experience. But we have to remember that every step taken forward in the reform and amelioration of our penal code has been taken against the very great weight of expert advice. I do not want to go hack to what judges may have said in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; I want to give just two examples within the memory of every noble Lord in this House. In the First World War a soldier could be shot for cowardice or desertion. All the experts said that we must have this unique penalty of the death sentence to make a soldier go forward to probable death, knowing that, if he did not go forward and ran away, he would face certain death. That was a logical argument, brought forward by honest Generals, Judge Advocates and others. That punishment was abolished by a Member of this House, the late Lord Norwich, a very gallant fighting soldier. Is there any Member of this House—and I have asked distinguished Generals and Admirals who took part in both world wars—who will say that the British soldier and sailor was more cowardly or more liable to desertion in the last war than in the previous one? No. That argument, which was perfectly logical, proved to be completely wrong and was disproved by fact.

May I take another case within our memory—the abolition of corporal punishment? We had a great weight of judicial opinion to say that there would be an increase in those crimes for which corporal punishment could be given if it were abolished. I would refer your Lordships to what the Home Secretary said, in answer to a Question in April of this year. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons), Vol. 551 (No. 141), col. 1942]: Before corporal punishment was abolished … the principal offences for which it could be indicted were offences under Section 23 (1) of the Larceny Act, 1916, that is, robbery with violence, armed robbery and robbery in company with others. Since 1948 there has been a fairly steady decrease in the number of such offences known to the police. There has been a steady history of the de-brutalisation of punishment in this country, accompanied by a steady lowering of the rate of crime. We abolished those brutal punishments, not because they might not be a deterrent but because we lowered ourselves as a civilised country by inflicting them. I hope that this country will find that the time has come for another move forward. I hope that this House will not "die in the last ditch" on this issue. I hope that when we face another place—and I think that this House should stand up against another place if your Lordships consider it right to do so—that we shall do it on a worthier cause than the retention of hanging. I know that we may get arguments based on the emotions of revenge, of righteous indignation and of fear. But fear is a bad counsellor. I feel that the time has come when we can safely take a further step forward in the civilising process which has been going on for so many years.

12.29 p.m.


My Lords, to have navigated a Bill of this importance through all its stages in another place is no mean achievement, but admiration for that achievement does not exempt us from the duty, which we would discharge if this were a Government measure, of obtaining the necessary assurances from those who sponsored this Bill and of questioning them about the precise method by which it is to be operated. That is a practice which is normal in all proposed legislation. We are not bringing on to the Statute Book a principle, but an Act of Parliament, which must be clear and definite in all its particulars. Of course, there is a principle involved here. Indeed, as in most cases which touch the conscience, there are two contending principles. One is, to put it in its extreme form, that the Biblical injunction, "Thou shalt not kill", is as binding upon States as it is upon their citizens. The other is that murder is so foul a crime that our detestation of it must be marked by the exaction of another life. Here is the last survival of the lex talionis.

On these questions of principle, as my noble friend Lord Elton said in his most persuasive speech, it is proper that we should listen to the guidance given from the Episcopal Bench and from Her Majesty's Judges, who are represented in this House. My noble friend Lord Elton raises a most interesting question when he asks which influence should prevail, that of the Bishops or the Judges, in a matter touching life and death and crime and punishment. I think that question was once argued upon a classical occasion when a Bishop claimed that he was more powerful than a Judge, for whereas the Judge could only say "You be hanged," he, the Bishop, could say. "You be damned." To which the Judge replied: "Yes; but if a judge says 'You be hanged', you are hanged." I agree with my noble friend Lord Elton that it is a great sustenance to us to have had this guidance from these two important quarters. We have learned, without qualification, from the Bench of Bishops that there is nothing in the moral law or in the Scriptures which prevents the exaction of the death penalty where the interests or safety of the State are involved. That is quite clear. Therefore the Bench of Bishops, as the right reverend Prelate has just said, each of them individually, decided to approach this matter as a practical question. The Judges, on the other hand, warn us that there would be grave danger in any interference with the present law.

Now we are concerned with a Bill, and this Bill is quite clear and precise in one sense. Never has an important matter been disposed of so bluntly as it is in this measure. There is only one operative clause, and it says, in the first part of it, that, no person shall be sentenced by a court to death for murder; With the principle enshrined in that sentence many of us would agree; and if one were to look into the future, as other noble Lords have done, I think there can be no doubt that, whether sooner or later, the time will come when the death penalty will be abolished for murder, as it has been for other offences; and many of us would welcome that consummation as a landmark in the progress of civilisation.

But when we come to the second part of the sentence, I think it is our duty to elucidate precisely what is the minds of the promoters of this Bill. It is easy enough to say in a few words: and every enactment requiring a court to pronounce or record a sentence of death in any case of murder shall be construed as requiring the court to sentence the offender to imprisonment for life. As I understand the matter, the practice of dealing with criminals charged with murder, and subsequently sentenced, is intricate and has grown up over a long period. There are recommendations to mercy; there is the exercise of the Prerogative; and these two together have resulted in a graduated treatment of the crime of murder. But no reference whatever is made to those matters here. We are just told categorically that in every case a life sentence will be passed. There can be no recommendation to mercy, because that is only applicable to a sentence of death; there can be no invocation of the Prerogative, because that likewise ensues upon a sentence of death. Therefore I think we must ask the promoters of this Bill, before we agree finally to support it, precisely what system they envisage putting in the place of the existing system. We have to protect the public. We cannot take away a protection, such as they conceive themselves to have, whether rightly or wrongly, in the present law, and put nothing in its place except a sentence which says summarily that every convicted man will go to prison for life.

My noble friend Lord Templewood, whose sponsorship of this Bill was, to my mind at any rate, a guarantee that it had been adequately considered, told us that there were complex problems which are not solved merely by a sentence passed by a Judge. He advocated the institution of an establishment, as I understand it, somewhere between a prison and a hospital, where a body of experts would study these psychopathic cases which henceforward would no longer be executed. That requires to be established. If any Government were introducing a measure of this kind, I think that even those who were enthusiastic advocates and pioneers of the measure would ask what is to be done about the establishment of this institution. How many persons will it accommodate? What doctors will be available? What kind of treatment will be applied? I think it is a corollary of 1his measure that there should be some institution of this kind, and the promotors of the do not discharge their duty to the public merely by saying that they think there ought to be such an institution. Before we hand the public over to the dangers with which they conceive they are confronted, we owe it to them to make every assurance that proper safeguards will be instituted.


My Lords, I was sorry to miss so many of the noble Lord's earlier remarks. But not only are the promoters, so far as I know their minds, most anxious to see this institution carried forward, but in fact there have been plans for some time for this institution. We understand from the Home Secretary, however, that, owing to the recent economy cuts, the Government are going to hold up the establishment of this institution. I thought the noble Lord should be in possession of those facts.


Yes, but I am dealing with the facts. The facts on one side are possibly as my noble friend has stated in that important intervention. But the facts with which we are dealing are that this Bill, if it be passed, will be the law of the land in two or three weeks. If this Bill goes through, it will be on the Statute Book in two or three weeks, and every Judge having a murderer before him who is found guilty, will have in the appropriate case to send him to this institution, or to some institution, and it is not good enough to say that the thing is not there, much as we would desire it to be there.

If the Government tell us today that these plans of which my noble friend speaks are going to be put into operation in order to assist the carrying out of this measure and to make it possible to carry it out, then I am with him entirely. But we have some responsibility not to put carts before horses in our legislation but to see that the two are provided together; otherwise we shall put the most important branch of our law into complete chaos, which will not redound to the advantage of the promoters of the Bill, because there will be a reaction against it nor, indeed, to the advantage of any section of the community.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt a very interesting speech, but I think in two or three sentences I ought to make the present position quite clear. If this Bill becomes law, the Home Office and the Prison Commission will have to deal with three classes of murderers: First of all, there is the class that would normally now be reprieved. They are being dealt with satisfactorily now. In course of time, most of these reprieved murderers have a remission of their sentence, and they have not proved a danger to the community. Secondly, there will be the class of murderers who would have been executed but who will not now be executed. I quite agree that they create a more serious problem. I divide them into two classes. In the first class, I imagine there would be the less dangerous of these murderers who, none the less, would be kept in prison for very long sentences—it may be up to twenty years. Lastly, there is the most dangerous class of prisoner—probably, to judge from the investigations that have been made, a very small class—who might have to be imprisoned for the whole of their lives, just in the same way that dangerous homicidal lunatics are imprisoned or interned in Broadmoor. I do not believe that the Home Office contemplates that this class will be a large one. None the less, it will be a class against which the community has to be protected, and I contemplate that there will be some of these murderers who will be treated just as the internees at Broadmoor are treated now. I hope I have made the position clear.

I would only add that my reference yesterday to the special institution that is being built for psychopathic cases does not in any way mean that the Home Office and the Prison Commissioners are not capable of dealing with these three classes at once. They are capable of dealing with them, though they could deal with them much better if this specialised institution were built. They have stated this fact categorically in the evidence that they have given to the Royal Commission.


My Lords, that is interesting and very enlightening, but it is not in the Bill, and we have no assurance that this scheme, if it can be described as a scheme, has been agreed by the promoters of the Bill. They may all have different schemes, and if this were a Government measure I think we should immediately ask for a White Paper to describe these methods. What does what my noble friend has said come to? He said there will be three classes of prisoners, although I heard him mention only two, with one sub-division. There will be one class who are now reprieved—but there will not be any reprieves henceforward. These people are going to be lumped together with the other classes, as far as the sentence is concerned. The Home Secretary will not come into it at all. There is no provision in this Bill for the Home Secretary to exercise powers such as he now exercises under the Prerogative in a death sentence. Then there are the classes, said my noble friend, who would have been executed, but who will not now be executed. Of course, in dealing with this class he has a very grave problem. I do not say that it is not soluble. My noble friend said that the less dangerous will have very long sentences. What is "a very long sentence"? The more dangerous, he added, may have to be imprisoned for the whole of their lives.

I am sure that my noble friend has thought about this problem, but it is not quite good enough to take it in an intervention in a debate on an important Bill. I think we should know precisely what is proposed before we take away this protection from the public. I may say with great and deep sincerity, as I have said already, that I would welcome our ability to adopt this principle, but I do not think it can be adopted without great care and knowledge of what we are doing. Merely because it is a Private Member's Bill does not imply that we should withhold from it that very close examination which we apply to all other measures. I have said that there are these difficulties, and that if this were a Government Bill we should require some clear statement upon it. I can only hope that such a statement will be forthcoming from the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, or someone else identified with this measure. We pass with the introduction of a Bill from the sphere of generalities into the sphere of practice.

On the other side, I do think there is a case to be met, and that it would be of advantage to have a Committee stage if the Bill lends itself to such a stage. We have it, in that monumental speech from the Lord Chancellor, that, in his opinion, the prospect of hanging is a deterrent. On the other hand, much evidence has been adduced on the other side. I do not want to rehearse it, but we have been reminded of our own experience when we have taken off the capital punishment in other cases, and of the experience of foreign countries. Last night we had a speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keith of Avonholm, who said that if hanging were a deterrent, one would expect that the Scottish experience would have been harsher than the English experience, because the law is laxer in Scotland and yet there are there fewer murders. There is counter-evidence to rebut, or at any rate to put in issue, what the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has expressed as his opinion.

There is also evidence on the other side when he says that it is necessary for the State to signalise by a serious and solemn act its reprobation of murder. In fact, the sensationalism surrounding murder cases and the hysteria attaching to executions completely undermine that solemnity. I think it is within the power of the Government to mitigate the situation in this particular, perhaps, to sonic extent without legislation. I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House if he will refer to this matter in his speech, because it may be within the power of the Government to take certain steps. In divorce cases, a restraint is put upon newspapers in what they can report, but murder trials are nothing more nor less than lessons in crime for the public. They certainly take away from the solemnity of that act of reprobation which the noble and learned Viscount found so important in any system of criminal law. So there is a case to be made for this Bill to go to Committee; but whether or not it goes to Committee must depend on the rest of our discussions this afternoon, on the assurances that we can be given in the matters of which I have spoken; and, on the other side, on some explanations from the Government as to whether they consider this Bill capable of amendment in the sense that amendment has been advocated in this debate, or, better still, of their intention to introduce their own considered legislative proposals.

Finally—for I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer—I do not think that the threat of the use of the Parliament Act should have any effect whatsoever upon our speeches or deliberations. Could anything be more farcical? Surely the Parliament Act was instituted as a means for getting on to the Statute Book important measures of Government legislation which had been resisted by the Lords. It was not instituted in order to assist Private Members introducing Bills which did not have the support of the Government or of the Opposition.


My Lords, I have forgotten whether the noble Lord was in the House when that discussion took place, but is not this a totally new view of the Parliament Act? The Parliament Act, in all stages of which I assisted, was passed to secure the ultimate supremacy of the House of Commons in all its legislation.


Technically, that may be so, but surely such a situation as this was never contemplated. When the late Labour Government was in office it did not support the clause which is now enshrined in this Bill. It advised against it. When this Government acceded to office, it followed a like course. Therefore, the two great Parties in the State are opposed to this particular proposal, and I say that it would be a little odd, to say the least of it, if the first Bill to be forced through under the Parliament Act were a Private Member's measure which had upon it the blessing neither of the Government nor of the Opposition. I content myself with making that observation, but the real point is that it is really the duty of the House of Lords—and that will not be contested—to give close examination to this measure in order that, when this new principle freeing the Statute Book from the penalty of hanging, is instituted, it will be instituted with all the necessary safeguards and with some assurance of its continuance in operation.

12.55 p.m.


My Lords, my intervention in this debate will be brief, because I am not concerned at the present moment about the ethics, the statistics or the legal niceties of capital punishment. As a Member of your Lordships' House, I ask myself, what is my personal responsibility at this present time? It is incontestable that the abolition of capital punishment must in the nature of things, so far as this country is concerned, be a great experiment. I ask myself, are the public of this country ready for that experiment or does the public consider the death penalty to be a deterrent to murder? To the best of my ability, I have come to the conclusion that public opinion is against this Bill. I have come to the conclusion also that, whether they are right or whether they are wrong, whether they are uneducated in the ethics of this matter or not, they are the British public; and the British public's paramount duty is to protect itself. Therefore, believing that that is the view of the British public, I shall vote against this Bill.

I am convinced that, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, quite rightly said, not only have we the responsibility of protecting the lives and the persons of the British public but there is one thing which I think is even more sacred, and that is the public's peace of mind; and the peace of mind of the vast majority of the female population of this country would be greatly disturbed if we took the course at this time of doing away with capital punishment. Anybody who has studied the cases of that dreadful and most heinous of all crimes, rape, cannot but be impressed by the fact that there would be more murders after that offence when the only possible witness that stood between the criminal and the finding out of the crime was the poor unfortunate victim, if it were not for the supreme penalty which would face him. I have no views, one way or the other, on the ethics, but I think it is my responsibility, as an individual Member of this House, to come very definitely to a conclusion; on all the evidence that is available to me I believe that the British public is not in favour of this Bill. If your Lordships reject it as you did in 1948—and in 1948 your Lordships' House was manifestly interpreting the public opinion correctly—you will again be giving effect to the will of the public.

1.0 p.m.


My Lords, it is often assumed that murder is far and away the worst crime that there is, and it is often assumed also that the law clearly distinguishes between wilful murderers and other criminals. That is not so. If I were to form the intention of murdering the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and if, in pursuance of that intention, I were to waylay him as he left the Chamber and pump half a dozen bullets into his body, and if his surgeons were sufficiently skilful to save his life. I should be in no danger of the gallows. If, on the other hand, I were to try and steal the Mace, and in the scuffle which followed the noble and learned Viscount happened to get a fatal blow on the head, I should then be condemned to death. It is quite clear that in the first case I should be committing, a far more serious crime. It is this anomaly (because anomaly it is) which alone in my opinion would justify the House in giving a Second Reading to this Bill.

We are often told—in fact, we keep on being told—that hanging is a deterrent. Presumably, hanging is supposed to be a deterrent because it is an unpleasant death. One wonders why those who advocate on those grounds do not advocate a more unpleasant death. Why should not murderers he burned at the stake? Why should they not be boiled in oil? Why should they not be put to the death of a thousand cuts? Surely, if, because it is an unpleasant death, hanging is a deterrent, it is obviously an insufficient deterrent. Let us have a sufficient deterrent on the same grounds. Why not torture the victim to death in the most horrible way that we can think of? The real reason is that those who advocate hanging have not got in their minds deterrence at all. They advocate something because for hundreds of years people have been hanged in this country, and they think that some obscure vengeance from the skies would fall upon them if hanging were abandoned.

We know well what was the origin of hanging. Our Saxon ancestors hanged men as sacrifices to the God Woden. We have forgotten Woden—unless weremember him on Wednesdays, which of course is his day. But the memory of the tradition of hanging victims every year to the God Woden has persisted, and it is really that tradition that is at the back of the minds of those who advocate hanging. I think it would be a tragedy if your Lordships were to vote for the continuance of this barbarous relic of paganism.

1.3 p.m.


My Lords, as this is the first occasion upon which I have had the privilege of addressing this House, I crave your indulgence both for what I shall say and for the manner in which I shall say it. Were the noble Lord, Lord Elton, here I should thank him for the kind words he spoke in welcome to an increased number of Bishops on this Bench, even though his words of welcome were somewhat backhanded. He made a moving and interesting reference to the saintly Bishop King of Lincoln, and in regard to that I think it is pertinent to point out—to use a phrase that chink Oliver Cromwell used—that there is no opinion so foolish as has not at some time been advocated by some philosopher. And the same might also be said of good men, and indeed of saints. The Apostle Paul did not, so far as I can recollect, advocate the abolition of slavery, but that is no reason why in these days and in these changed circumstances slavery should be retained. Because Bishop King did not advocate the abolition of the death penalty, I see no reason why, in this different day and in these different circumstances, we should not think differently from that saintly man.

At this stage in the debate it is difficult, indeed impossible, to bring forward any consideration or argument which is new; it is possible only to underline some of the things that have been said already. Prior to this debate I believe it was thought generally amongst the public that there would be division between those who were the sentimentalists on the one side and those who were the realists on the other. I think we should all agree that that has not been so. The facts of both sides have been argued closely and with cogency. It had also been thought, I believe, that the ethical arguments would all be on one side and the arguments from expediency on the other. Again, that has not been so. Men of good will, of experience and of moral insight we all know can differ very easily on the subject of our discussion, and I should be the last to wish, because I happen to be a Bishop, to adept a "holier than thou" attitude, or indeed to suggest that I could claim a deeper moral insight into this problem than any of my fellows. Nevertheless, I will vote for the Bill.

There is no need to retrace the various arguments on either side and to draw conclusions from the statistical data which have been put in front of us. Since time is late, I would simply wish to add two footnotes to the debate—I shall be brief, otherwise I fear there may be murder in the House of Lords. My only claim to speak is that I have in my diocese one of the largest prisons in the country—Strangeways. I make it a practice to keep in pretty close touch with that prison. I preach in the chapel there to all the prisoners twice a year. I have been in close touch with the prison officers and the chaplain. Secondly, for a time I spent some years in the Civil Service, and during that time I was responsible for a certain amount of prison administration and also for surveying beforehand the petitions received from various prisoners, including those under sentence of death. I may therefore claim some rather closer acquaintance with the problem than some others of my brethren on this Bench.

Here are the two considerations which I would urge upon your Lordships in pondering this question. First of all, I cannot believe that we should ask others to do what, in certain circumstances, we ourselves would not do. I certainly feel that I should not wish to be responsible for the actual hanging of a man. Despite what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about the book of the prison chaplain, I believe—I have some ground for believing, in experience—that with those who are responsible for the actual hanging it hardens all within and petrifies the feeling. So far from saying that we ought to retain the death penalty because of our prison officers, I believe we ought to abolish it because of our prison officers. I do not believe it is fair or right to ask men to perform this task. Much more, it seems to me almost, I would say, criminal to ask men to do it in the case of women—to hang women.

It has been said that the death sentence has no real effect upon a prison. I beg to differ. I have been told repeatedly by prison governors that before a death sentence is carried out, and when it is carried out, an electric shock, as it were, runs through the whole prison. There is a feeling that is evil and bad for the prisoners. I am sure all noble Lords would wish for prison reform, but I do not see how it is possible to go forward with the general plan of prison reform so long as we retain on the Statute Book the death penalty. I have known two chaplains who have suffered nervous breakdowns, due entirely to their having to attend at a hanging. Both of those, it is true, were sensitive men; yet who but a sensitive man would be any use as a prison chaplain? Of course the scaffold and the actual procedure are hidden away from the public, but I have close enough knowledge to know that it has undoubtedly an evil and ill effect on the prison, on the prison officers and on the prisoners. It is unnatural, it seems to me, to ask a man in cold blood to kill one of his fellows, no matter how deserving of death that man or woman may be.

That is my first consideration. My second consideration may indeed seem strange and paradoxical. As we have already been reminded in this debate, William Temple, my great predecessor in the See of Manchester, used to say that the fact that the State took life cheapened life, and was bound to cheapen life in the eyes of all citizens. That is a philosophical argument upon which we can differ. Mine is an analogous argument, but of a psychological nature. I believe that the morbid thrill and horror disseminated by a certain section of the Press concentrates the attention of pathological, mordid and semi-criminal types on this whole question of murder, and actually increases the chances of murder rather than decreases them.

As an illustration of that, although this is not a murder case, I would quote one happening in my diocese. This is taken from the report of it in the Manchester Guardian on March 27, 1953. A girl aged fourteen, who was said to have taken a dislike to the police since her father was dismissed from the force under disputed circumstances, was stated at Salford Juvenile Court yesterday to have 'hero-worshipped' Derek Bentley, who was hanged for his part in the murder of Police-Constable Miles. She ran away from home to see his house in London, and when taken in custody-after calling there was found to have in her handbag a mirror with Bentley's photograph on it and many Press cuttings relating to the case. She also had with her a revolver belonging to her father, a linoleum knife, a toy dagger, and a razor blade holder, but these, she said, were 'to protect herself while in London.' The Croydon magistrates acquitted her of any criminal intent, and remitted her to Salford, her home, to be dealt with for possessing the gun without certificate or licence. That is a good illustration of the way in which all this publicity in the Press affects weak, adolescent and morbid minds. One further point I may add here in illustration is the number of people who year by year apply to become public hangmen in this country. That, again, is an illustration of the evil effects of this penalty.

There are the two considerations. Those, combined with various other arguments which we have heard in favour of the Bill, incline me to vote for it. I should like to add one further point. If this Bill should not reach the Statute Book and if the death penalty should be retained, I very much hope that the suggestion made by the noble Viscount. Lord Hailsham, yesterday will receive consideration by Her Majesty's Government. That was that the Prerogative of mercy and the conditions applicable to it should be carefully scrutinised by the Government. I have had some personal experience in dealing with the Home Office in certainly one case where the Prerogative, was not exercised, and the impression which I gained was that the tradition in the Civil Service was that this was a Prerogative, not of mercy, but of justice. I entirely agree that every care was taken to look into the case from the beginning to the end, to see whether there was any ground in justice for removing the death penalty, but little consideration, in my judgment, was given in the case I have in mind to the home background—the cruel home background —to the social circumstances and, to the family life. I very much hope that if this Bill does not pass into law the Government will at any rate give serious consideration to the point which Lord Hailsham so adequately made.

1.16 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to very few of us to speak immediately after a maiden speech and I wish to say how grateful I am to the right reverend Prelate for his very able exposition of this subject, although I did not agree with him, except, perhaps, indirectly, occasionally.

I am rather shocked that every Bishop who has spoken so far has spoken in favour of this Bill. I should have thought there would be a great deal of divergence of opinion amongst the Bishops on this subject. But I will come to that matter a little later in my speech.

I do not want to repeat what other noble Lords have said, but it is almost inevitable that one should sometimes refer to what some of them have said. I am sorry—although I recognise that this is a bad moment for anyone to speak—to see that neither Lord Templewood nor some of the other speakers to whom I should have wished to refer are present in the House. There is one subject which I should have expected to be mentioned from the Bishops' Bench with great emphasis, but it has not so far been touched on. With the exception of my noble friend Lord Ailwyn, who touched on it slightly, I do not think that anyone has referred to the victim struggling against death. All the speeches have been concerned with easing the position of the murderer. I am horrified at the tone of the debate in that respect. The attitude has been: how are we to ease the position of the man who has committed a most frightful crime? Have we heard anything in this debate—it is all right for the noble Viscount opposite to laugh, but this is true, and perhaps when he speaks he will deal with it—about the position of the victim struggling against a brutal murderer? That aspect has never been mentioned.


I should like to assure the noble Lord, for whom we have so much respect, that I was not in the least deriding the deep sincerity with which he is speaking; not at all.


I realise that and thank the noble Viscount for his intervention. I fee] this matter very strongly. It is one of the things that, with great respect, I think the Press are not very good about. We see the picture of the murderer's mother, the murderer's wife, or the murderer's children, but how often do we see the picture of the victim's mother or child advertised in the same way?

Like many of your Lordships, I have had any amount of literature from those who promote this Bill. One of the things in that literature that rather—I will not say amused because one is not amused on a subject like this: I will say interested me, was the comment, usually put in this way: that if only the judge who had delivered the sentence on the murderer, and the Home Secretary, would attend an execution, there would be no more. My answer to that immediately is this: let the promoter of this Bill and my noble friend Lord Templewood go and experience what happened at the time of the murder and leading up to it. Do not let me be mealy-mouthed or have any "sobstuff" about this. Those are the facts that today occupy the minds of. I say, a very large, probably the largest, percentage of the public in regard to this matter. We hear of the ordeal of the prisoner, the murderer, going to the scaffold. What is that compared to the ordeal of the poor woman, generally old, in bed, who is seized by some frightful brute and murdered and robbed? What of the ordeal there? In my view, the people who do these things are not fit for this world and I have complete confidence in those who administer the justice in this country in this regard.

We have had a lot of talk in this debate about people who are abnormal, people who are insane. Of course they say they are insane once they are caught. My Lords, I say that they are not mad; they are bad, and should be punished accordingly. Of course they try every scheme, once they are caught, to avoid hanging—pretence of abnormality, stupidity, every sort of idiosyncracy that can make the prison authorities and others, before they are convicted, believe that they are abnormal. They say "I am not normal and therefore I ought to escape from what evil I have done." One of the things I read was about this craze on the part of some people for publicity; it is even said that they have gone to the extent of murder in order to get publicity. Well, I say at once to your Lordships' House: get rid of these people out of the world; they are not fit to be amongst honest, straight people. There are some things that are said that are not quite true. It has been rather intimated that it has never happened that murderers have, when they have had the chance, committed murder a second time. I take the instance of New Zealand, which did away with capital punishment but reinstituted it because it was found, in some most appalling case, that there was still this tendency to murder.

With regard to deterrent: I have any amount of evidence which shows, in my view—and I am only a simple man in the street—that hanging is a great deterrent. Why do murderers appeal? They all appeal today. Why? Because they would sooner go to prison than be hanged. A curious thing happened last night in regard to publicity and public opinion. I left this House with a noble friend of mine and we shared a taxi. We had not driven out of Parliament Square before the driver pulled back the window behind him and he said "I hope you two are all right", so we said, "Yes, we are very comfortable." He said, "Don't let them do away with hanging." I thought to myself, that that was exactly the view I had found throughout all my connections in all walks of life, from this City into my own county and up to Scotland, which is my country. The public are dead against this Bill, I believe in a percentage they have never been before. This morning, when I was called at my hotel by the maid, she asked me, "How are you going to vote today"? I said "I don't know what you mean, but I expect you mean am I going to vote in favour of doing away with hanging?" She replied, "That is what I do mean." I told her, "You are all right. I am not going to vote for doing away with hanging." She said, "Thank God for that; now women and old people will be able to walk about the streets and not be terrified of what is going to happen." Therefore, I wash out altogether this sort of idea that some speakers have had that public opinion has changed. I should say it is stronger than ever in favour of retaining hanging.

A very serious question faces your Lordships' House. I believe that the people of the country look to us to protect them from brutal and vicious crimes, and if we pass this Bill or give it a Second Reading, or give any sort of support to its proposals, I believe that we shall lose our status. On occasions of this sort the public look to us to protect them. To give another personal experience, I happen to be President, being an old man, of the Old Contemptibles' Association in the district where I live. No sooner was this Bill and the idea of it put up, than I was telephoned by the secretary who wanted to come and see me. I said, "Certainly, come along." They had had an emergency meeting to find out how I felt about the abolition of capital punishment. To a man they were all in favour of continuing it. So I say to your Lordships that this House has a great responsibility at this moment in protecting the people against the continuance of certain things that are going on.

Now I come to something which I think the right reverend Prelate mentioned. I was immensely impressed with my noble friend Lord Chatfield yesterday. He told us that he had got, I think, a scholarship on his Bible knowledge. He quoted to us—and I knew it all, and I have been very much influenced in my opinion—parts of the Old Testament and the New Testament; and I hoped that some of the passages to which he referred would have been mentioned by other speakers. Your Lordships will be aware of the words in Genesis quoted by Lord Chatfield: Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed". Again, before His Crucifixion Our Lord told St. Peter: Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Finally, of those who are brutal to children Our Lord said: It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. I had hoped, as I say, that such quotations as these from the Great Book would have received some reference; but there has been none.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for permitting me to interrupt him. The most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York, as your Lordships will remember, made a passing reference to the teaching of the New Testament. In fact he said that he was not intending to give a lecture on the New Testament. I may say that he is a most learned scholar, and he did say that he was satisfied, from his own study of the subject, that what was said on the other side was not entirely satisfactory.


My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for reminding me of that, though I had not understood the reference in quite the way that he did. I think the noble Lord said he had had one reference about it. I can honestly say that I have had none. We have been told that one of the dreadful things about capital punishment is that ii is the final end to the individual—the murderer. Is it not the final end to his victim? So far as I know, no noble Lord has yet said anything of that. Why should not a man who ends the life of another man, or of a woman or child, suffer? Why should we have "sobstuff" about the end of this brutal class of person?

I come next to a question which has often been referred to, the suicide of some of those who have been caught and convicted. Is this not evidence that hanging is a deterrent? Why is it that, as soon as a man knows he is "for it", he wants to get out of it in his own way as quickly as possible, in order not to face up to the hanging to which he has justly been condemned?

My Lords, that is all I have to say, except that I am convinced that a great deal of what is said in the Royal Commission Report needs reflection. I believe that the Royal Commission were "sitting on the fence" a great deal. I agree with the noble and learned Lord who sat in front of me. He seemed to take the view that one must be very careful dealing with a subject of this magnitude; that there was so much in it that one could not take any risk. On reading the Report of the Royal Commission it seemed to me that they were taking chances. I believe there is evidence that in countries where the death penalty has been abolished there has been no increase in the murder rate; but is there any evidence that there has been any decrease in the number of murders? Several noble Lords have pointed out that there is less murder in this country than in any other.

I feel that these are questions which have not been properly threshed out. We have to look at this problem far more carefully, not in an academic manner but deeply and from every point of view, on the religious side and also on the Government side. This is not a Bill which lends itself to thorough investigation on Committee and Report stages, as the noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha said; and I hope that the House will throw it out with a "thumping" majority.

1.37 p.m.


My Lords, many of your Lordships have stressed the importance of approaching this question without emotion. Speaking to your Lordships as I do for the first time. I must confess to the fact that I labour under some emotion. That emotion may not be unknown to your Lordships, since you also made your maiden speeches. Nevertheless, I agree that emotion is out of place in considering this Bill—at any rate, emotion of a certain kind. Yet I would humbly submit that something more than a purely rational approach is required. So far as. I know, no speaker has attempted to play down the detestation and repugnance that we feel for the crime of murder, or has suggested that execution by hanging is not an awesome and a fearful thing, or that the suffering of the relatives of the murderer's victims or of the murderer himself should not be considered because it is a matter of emotion. In my submission we do ill to attempt to rid ourselves of all feeling in this matter, but we do well to allow our reason to test the appropriateness of our feelings for making a judgment. It is no use our trying to dispense with feeling; for the more important our activity, the more important it is that we should be actuated by feeling—but feeling of an appropriate kind. Even a judge who presides over a murder trial must allow himself certain feelings: scrupulous loyalty to the law, the desire to be fair to the accused. These are feelings proper to the occasion. Under the direction of such feelings reason can operate freely, and because it starts with a correct bias of feeling it has a fair chance of arriving at correct conclusions.

In considering this measure to remove the death penalty for murder we have to use moral sense as well as reason. These together enable us to distinguish between our horror of the act of murder and our horror of the murderer. Both emotions may be equally strong, both are natural—but they are not, in my submission, equally valuable from a moral point of view. Nobody, so far as I am aware, suggests that murder should go unpunished or that society should not take appropriate action to protect its members from murderous attacks. But clearly the State can do both these things without recourse to the death penalty. The punishment of hanging is only incidentally also a means by which the murderer is restrained from committing the same crime a second time.

Moreover, the evidence provided by the Royal Commission, about which we have heard a great deal, does not confirm that the death penalty provides a unique deterrent. There are other ways in which society, acting through the State, can protect its citizens, just as there are other punishments for this dreadful crime. The most dangerous type of murderer—the insane killer—can be, and is, prevented from menacing society without its being found necessary to deprive him of his life. But granted that the State is bound to protect its citizens, and granted that not to punish severely would be to condone, neither of these conclusions necessarily indicates or justifies capital punishment.

Behind the many speeches we have heard, and shall hear, in your Lordships' House during this debate lie two quite different motivating thoughts, both held with great sincerity. Let us be clear about them, because they are all too easily confused. On the one hand, there are those who, like myself, approach this matter from a purely moral standpoint. On the other hand, there are those who believe that in matters of legislation the first thing to be considered is what is best for society and the nation as a whole. The conclusion is often the same—but it is not necessarily the same, and I think it is important to be very much aware that a different scale of values is involved according to which attitude we adopt. I think I can make my meaning clear if your Lordships will consider for a moment the difference between a primitive society and our own. The difference does not lie in the principle that society must make its rules or laws for the general good of its members. That principle is common to both—the primitive and the civilised. The difference lies in the extent to which religious enlightenment permeates its laws.

In the case of a Christian society, this certainly means, in practice, consideration for the good of the individual, even when the individual's condition (for example, insanity) or behaviour (for example, criminal activity) is actually inimical to the interests of society. In a State in which the logical interests of the good of society are the sole consideration, the conscientious objector would be shot. Why do we not destroy useless and harmful members of society? Why are the most civilised societies those who go to extreme lengths to care for such people as the incurably insane, the mentally defective and so on? I suggest it is because we recognise that there is a right and a wrong which stand over and above the more obvious needs of society, a morality which is not in conditioned by what is expedient n a society's interests.

These are the very issues that are at stake in this Bill. In a matter of this kind, where moral considerations, if they mean anything at all, are paramount, they must be allowed to motivate our thinking. If, in considering moral questions, we allow ourselves to regard what is morally right as one with what is best for society, we tread upon dangerous ground. The mass executions, the Terror, of the French Revolution were carried out in the name of and for the sake of "the people". The atrocities perpetrated by totalitarian régimes in our own time were, allegedly, for the benefit of the nation. If morality in its broad and proper sense were the same thing as the good of society, there would be no room for a conscience that ran counter to society's interests. Indeed, conscience would become meaningless and could be replaced by directions from the State. If this is a matter of right and wrong, then secondary considerations are out of place.

Even supposing that by passing this Bill we remove an effective deterrent to murder—which I do not believe—morally we have no option but to abolish the death penalty. The State condemns the killing of one individual by another. The moral law condemns it. Christian teaching condemns it. I believe that the State has no more right to deprive a man of his life than a murderer has to take the life of his victim. To execute a human being, however depraved he may be, however evil and vile his act, is itself evil. Moreover, it is evil for precisely the same reasons that it is evil for the murderer to take it upon himself to destroy another. George Fox, the Quaker said: There is that of God in every man. This for me explains what is meant by the sanctity of human life. It applies to the most inhuman of men as to the most saintly. If there is, as it seems, a great difference in the degree of in-dwelling Divine Spirit as between one man and another, that is something we have no means of measuring precisely, and we are not called upon to judge it. To kill a man, whether judicially or in arty other way, is to treat him as if he were so far removed from God's grace as to become another thing, a creature beyond the pale of forgiveness and mercy and fit only for slaughter, a creature so far removed from his Creator that his life is no longer a matter of concern for God but falls within the jurisdiction of man.

The State does not show more reverence for human life by punishing murderers with death. To quote the late, Dr. Temple: Its action in taking life where murder is proved will do more to undermine regard for life, and therefore even to encourage murder, than the terrible nature of the punishment could do to check the murderous impulse. Or, as John Bright, a member of my own little Christian sect, put it a century ago: A deep reverence for human life is worth more than a thousand executions in the prevention of murder; and is, in fact, the great security of human life. The law of capital punishment, whilst pretending to support this reverence does, in fact, tend to destroy it. I shall vote in favour of this Bill.

1.54 p.m.


My Lords, my first and pleasant duty is to congratulate the noble Lord who has just spoken on his maiden speech, which I am sure conveyed the greatest possible sincerity to the House. To-day we are dealing with a serious subject; in fact, nothing could be more serious. I have looked at this problem in my own way and have come to the conclusion that the best thing I can do is to take the Criminal Statistics for the year 1954 and make some observations upon them. In 1954, nine infants under one year were murdered, but a number of the murderers were not discovered. Proceedings were taken against seventy-two persons, of whom one died awaiting trial; one committed suicide awaiting trial thirty-three were found to be insane, eight were acquitted, one detained during Her Majesty's pleasure and one, an expectant mother, was given life imprisonment. The number convicted and sentenced to death was twelve, and life imprisonment was imposed on ten. One of the convictions was quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal. I think it is worth while asking the noble Marquess who is to reply to make clear what life imprisonment" implies. I am given to understand that in many cases it is a period of ten years, and not the actual duration of the individual's life.

The statement of facts I have given seems to me to be disturbing. Judging from my own medical experience, which has been fairly extensive in all fields, there are probably a good many more infants suffocated (presumably because it is the easiest way of killing them) than the seven referred to in this Report. That statement is hypothetical, but I think that it is based on reasonable assumptions.

I would also ask the noble Marquess what will happen in the Dominions and Colonies if, unfortunately, as I think, this Bill should be passed. Are they all to be compelled to follow us or what are they to do? I think that point deserves particularly careful attention because of the great differences which exist between, let us say, Great Britain and Rhodesia, or West Africa, or any of the other Colonies which many noble Lords have visited. What machinery is there for putting into operation in those countries the possibilities of control which we have in this country? They simply do not exist in these countries. I have visited a good many of them and I foresee the greatest possible difficulty in putting control into operation.

For example, a large proportion of the population have not had the same standards of education and training in social understanding that we have had. I remember how, as a Member of another place, I toured the African Colonies with three other Members. I spoke to many chiefs in Nigeria and in Northern and Southern Rhodesia, and I particularly asked them what they proposed to do in their countries in the future. On no single occasion did I hear any suggestion that they wanted self-government. There have been rapid changes in those parts of the world, owing to circumstances to which I will not refer now, because it would take too long, but I am convinced that there would be great difficulty in operating control. In considering this Bill it is important to think of its effect not only on our own country but on the whole of the Commonwealth, and I think that the Government should give some lead to the House on this matter. I myself shall vote against the Bill.

2.0 p.m.


My Lords, during my twenty-odd years of membership of your Lordships' House, it has always struck me as somewhat bizarre that when we are discussing a matter of some moment, be it either on the domestic front or on the foreign field, the attendance is somewhat sparse; but should we be discussing television, or the probable fate and future of a dozen or so criminals in the course of a year, attendance is phenomenal; the debate takes two days, and the heat engendered is "quite something". This is a mischievous measure, conceived in error, nourished in ignorance; and in my view your Lordships should undoubtedly throw it out, because it is devoid of merit of any kind.

Before we go into the Division Lobby this evening we shall obviously have to take counsel with ourselves. For my part, I accept what has fallen from the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor about this matter. Everything he has said has been confirmed in terms by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Oaksey, amongst others, and I shall indeed be surprised if it is not further confirmed later this afternoon by the Lord Chief Justice. We must ask ourselves who is likely to know more about this matter—people like the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, or the rather woolly-minded sentimentalists who are in favour of giving the crooks, for whom the promoters of this Bill feel so solicitous, a licence to murder—because that is what it amounts to.

A week ago yesterday, when your Lordships were receiving this Bill formally for the first time, a client of mine, a woman of seventy-one, Miss Rachel Parsons, was battered to death at New-market; and a few hours later a woman who had only been married a matter of days was strangled in the Earl's Court district. Your Lordships are asked to believe that the scaffold and hanging, horrible as they are (I agree with that), are not a deterrent. Do your Lordships really believe that? I believe that it is not only a deterrent but, as has been said, wisely and rightly, a unique deterrent. I think the thought of that walk at nine o'clock in the morning does stay the hand of the criminal, and that imprisonment, however long it may be, does not have the same effect. I am not suggesting that Her Majesty's prisons are the "abode of the blest," but at least they have no unknown terror. It is, in my view, the unknown terror that stays the hand of the criminal, and that is why I think this Bill must be rejected out of hand. It is a bad Bill.

Furthermore, I am convinced, on the political side, that not a scintilla of evidence has been produced to show that the public are genuinely behind it. The Bill had a very small majority on Third Reading in another place—even if one accepts the other place as being representative of the views of the country, as a whole, which personally I do not. Accordingly, I shall vote against the Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, preserve what status we have left in this country by rejecting this absurd Bill.

2.4 p.m.


My Lords, I see from the time table that the heavy artillery is expected to open bombardment in about half an hour's time, and there are a number of speakers down to speak before that. Therefore, one must be brief and, in spite of the temptation to discuss the many arguments on all sides, I propose to follow the precedent common in Continental Parliaments of simply stating how I intend to vote, and briefly why. Eight years ago I voted against Clause 1 of the Criminal Justice Bill which proposed to suspend capital punishment for five years. Tonight I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill, and I shall do so both on the substance of the matter and on constitutional consideration.

As for the merits, I have always wished to do away with capital punishment. It is at best a ghoulish procedure that can be justified only by necessity. The experience of countries which have no capital punishment disproves the presumption that this deterrent is necessary for the safety of the State. I do not accept as they stand the validity of all the statistics brought forward in this context. It is difficult to compare the statistics of one country against the figures of another, particularly in regard to such a problem as this. However, I do not think that any of the comments made on the statistical case touch or destroy the point made so well yesterday by the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Exeter, when he pointed out that if the fear of the noose was, in fact, not necessarily a unique deterrent, but even a very major deterrent, then when capital punishment was abolished there should have been some sign, at all events in some of the statistics of a rise in the murder rate. I accept the view put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, in the debate eight years ago, when he said: Whether the experiment is made or not, you will find in five years' time practically no difference in the number of murders. In my opinion, the case is not made out on the ground of overriding necessity.

Secondly, though I am not one of those who believe that it is never necessary or permissible to take life, I am deeply impressed with the irrevocable nature of capital punishment and the possibility that we may make mistakes. It may be that I am particularly impressed with this point because of the personal experience I had when the newspaper with which I am connected many years ago prosecuted a long campaign for the reopening of the Oscar Slater case, which was eventually done. After eighteen years' penal servitude the conviction of Slater was quashed and he was given £6,000 compensation. On this matter we had a specific statement yesterday from my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor; and I want to say that I yield to no one in my respect for his integrity and his wisdom—and I am sure he knows that. But, with all respect to his great authority, I question whether the public will be satisfied to take the view that the risk of mistake is negligible or one that can properly be taken by a civilised community. Thirdly, I do not accept—I am not going to discuss the details—the argument that the State is, at least in the worst cases, called upon to exact retribution, and by so doing to uphold the majesty of the law. The effect in such cases may well be, and m my opinion is likely to be, and is being, to weaken belief in the sanctity of human life in the community.

But, though holding these views in general, I was persuaded in 1948 by my noble friend Lord Samuel and others that it was most desirable to proceed in this matter, if possible, by common consent. The debates showed a general desire gradually to restrict capital punishment, either by defining degrees of murder in the Statute or by the increasing use of the Royal Prerogative. The formula proposed to the House by the Government was not accepted, and the next year the Royal Commission was appointed. The opinion of that Commission is clear, and it is quite unnecessary for me to repeat it. After the most exhaustive inquiries, it was shown that there was no satisfactory half-way house between our present system and abolition. With that door closed, I shall vole for the Bill on its merits.

But I shall also vote for it on constitutional grounds. Even if the majority of this House disapprove of the Bill, I would suggest, as my noble friend Lord Rea has already done, that there are good grounds for giving it at least a Second Reading. According to the letter of the law, the House obviously has the right to reject the Bill, amend it or do what it wishes with it, and so prevent its passing until next year. But I suggest that it would be inexpedient for the House to do this. Under the Constitution, this House has not equal powers with the elected Chamber, and rightly so; it has only a delaying power, and can ensure that second thoughts are given in another place to matters in dispute. In the case before us, this concept of insisting upon second thoughts has already been carried out on an extended scale, and, as I would say, to the limit of reasonableness. Eight years ago this House held up the action proposed in another place. The delay has lasted not one year or even two, but eight years, and in the interim there has been the most exhaustive inquiry. Finally, after eight years the other place, this time with a Conservative majority, has again voted in favour of the abolition of the death penalty. It would, I think, be straining the Prerogative of this House to the utmost to compel another place to wait yet a further year.

My noble friend Lord Sherwood pertinently asked yesterday how it is that a Government which so strongly believes in maintaining the death penalty has left the matter to a free vote in another place. If the public draw the conclusion that the Government are relying on its influence in this House to nullify the effect of a free vote in another place, it can hardly fail to underline the unbalanced political composition of this House, sharpen criticism of its role in the Constitution, and make it more difficult to get general agreement to the reform of the House, which, in common with many of your Lordships, I believe to be both necessary and desirable. For that reason, I reinforce the appeal of my learned friend Lord Rea to those who dislike the Bill to give it a Second Reading and reserve their opposition for the Committee stage.

2.14 p.m.


My Lords, as my predecessor in debate, the noble Lord, Lord Layton, has pointed out, through no fault of his or of noble Lords who have recently spoken, we are a little behind in the timetable, and I therefore wish to reduce my remarks as much as possible. I should, however, like to answer the main burden of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Layton, and that is whether this House has or has not a right and a duty to reject this Bill. Before doing so, I should like to make some observations of a controversial kind. We have had in this debate, if I may say so with respect to your Lordships' House, a very high level in every respect: of sincerity, of clarity and of the pros and cons concerning the Bill. It has also been, I feel, a very good-natured debate; But that does not mean that one should not put controversial points.

I will commence by saying that I think this is the most amazing example that I have ever known of the intense illogicality of British moral reasoning. Intense emotion has been displayed in another place, and by some Members of this House, over the fact that each year some twelve or fourteen persons (who, quite frankly, both for their own sake and for that of the public, are probably better put out of the world, in any event) have been hanged. Yet every year, on the roads, thousands of people are killed, maimed for life or injured in various ways. As one who is a director of an insurance company, I may say that some of the particulars of the injuries caused, especially to children in road accidents, are horrifying. What does another place and your Lordships' House do about that? From time to time there is a debate on the matter, and it ends in both Houses by people saying, "Well, it is just too bad, but there is nothing we can do about it."

I should like to give another example. I was the guest of the Army in Germany soon after the end of the war, and I stayed with a distinguished British officer near Hamburg. He said, "I am not a politician, and I make no comment upon whether or not our action was morally justified, but it may interest you to know that in three nights of bombing 60,000 civilians were killed or burnt to death in Hamburg." Did any of those who have protested so strongly, in your Lordships' House or elsewhere, or any of the right reverend Prelates, protest against that bombing? Why is it illicit, non-Christian or immoral to hang fourteen English murderers a year, yet perfectly right and proper to kill 60,000 people in Hamburg? I can understand the pacifist argument—I admire it in many ways—which says that it is wrong to take life in any circumstances. But why, to use a phrase used by somebody elsewhere, is it obscene to hang a murderer, and not obscene to kill 60,000 people with bombs? The only supporters of this Bill, from a moral point of view, should be the pacifists who are perfectly entitled to support it.

Now I turn to deal for a moment with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Layton, made, if I may say so, in his usual calm and dispassionate way, and put very clearly. I take exactly the opposite view on this question of the rights which we have as a Revising Chamber to reject this Bill if necessary. During the long years that I was in another place I had a reputation—though it was a slightly spurious one—for having a knowledge of procedure and precedent, and I should like, in the shortest possible time, to submit to your Lordships why I think we have a right to reject this Bill.

What are the facts? in the first place, the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary, speaking not only with the authority of their great offices, but, if I may say so in my noble friend's presence, as statesmen of great calibre, admitted so to be by their political opponents, as well as by their friends, urged, in speeches of complete directness and great vehemence, the rejection of the Bill. The immense majority of opinion in the Judicature, in the police service and in the prison service, is opposed to this Bill. The promoters have never claimed that they had the majority of the public behind them. They claim to be acting, not as representatives of their constituents but as crusaders for a principle.

Despite what some noble Lords have said, I maintain that there is no evidence whatsoever that there is a majority in the country in favour of this Bill. Yet your Lordships' House is asked to make a major change in the criminal law of the country because certain Members of another place conscientiously object to capital punishment. What pressure has there been for the Bill outside Parliament? Most of the Press opinion is against it. There is a small body of Press opinion, composed mostly of young editors of weekly and monthly journals, who are running a dual campaign at this moment. One is to make homosexualism legal and the other is to abolish capital punishment. There is no evidence that in either case they have public support on their side. I do not know what their object is in running this campaign. I am sure they are actuated by the best motives, but they certainly have not the support of the public.

The Third Reading of the Bill was carried by a tiny majority in another place, with a number of Members, in ray opinion to their discredit, abstaining. I must say here (I am sorry to have to say it) that the Government also, in my opinion, to their discredit, followed the bad example of their Socialist predecessors and said that whether or not a major change should be made in the criminal law would be left to a free vote. Logically, if they are so concerned about the consciences of their supporters, they should also leave to a free vote the question whether it is right to shoot terrorists in Kenya, Malaya or Cyprus. Why is it right to shoot a terrorist in Malaya, Kenya or Cyprus and wrong to hang an English murderer? Why do not the supporters of this Bill, and especially the Conservative supporters in another place, go to their constituents and say "We are going to be logical. We are not going to support the Government any longer in what they are doing to put down violence in these countries"? As the noble Viscount, Lord Malvern, pointed out in his maiden speech yesterday, if this Bill is passed we shall find ourselves in a position of impasse and utter illogicality. I most sincerely hope that, if this Bill is rejected, the Government will be courageous and not afford it any further opportunities in another place.

My last point is this. Whilst all of us who are opposed to this Bill accept as perfectly genuine the conscientious objection to capital punishment which its supporters have, those who hold that opinion should also realise the conscientious objection to its abolition that some of us hold, on the ground that more human suffering and injury to social standards will be caused by the abolition of capital punishment than by its retention. I am convinced that the country is not in, favour of the greater part of this Bill. I return to my original point. If, in the circumstances which I have ventured to outline, we do not reject this Bill, if the majority of your Lordships are opposed to it, then we shall cease to have any right to be described as a Second Chamber. We might just as well, so to speak, to use a vulgar term, "pack up" and say we have abrogated our function. Either we are a Second Chamber or we are not a Second Chamber. We exist either to revise the legislation that comes from another place or to reject it. When we believe that that legislation has not the assent of the electorate, either we exercise our duty or we cease to be a Second Chamber. For all these reasons, I sincerely hope that your Lordships will reject this Bill.

2.25 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I owe your Lordships, and especially the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, an apology for the fact that I was not here to hear him open the debate yesterday, but my duties called me elsewhere. Therefore, I shall ask your Lordships' indulgence if I am found repeating some of the arguments to which you have already listened. May I preface what I have to say to-day by saying that I recognise to the full the deep sincerity of those who support this Bill? I am not going to discount their arguments by saying that they are merely emotion or sentiment. In all such matters as these, emotion and sentiment must play some part, and it is none the worse for that. I myself confess to feeling some emotion or sentiment, whatever be the right expression, on this matter; but my sentiments, I am bound to say, are more in favour of the victims than of the murderers. I am perfectly certain that the sentiment of pity for the victims is felt by the noble Lords who support this Bill, but it seems to me that there is a tendency nowadays, when any matter of the criminal law is being discussed, to think far more of the criminal than of his victim.

I am well aware that the supporters of this Bill look with the greatest suspicion upon judges' opinions. The judges are always held up, as they have been in much of the propaganda which I have no doubt your Lordships have received, as I have, as opponents of all reform and as being interested only in upholding a Draconian system. That is due particularly, I think, to the fact that undoubtedly in the early years of the nineteenth century Lord Ellenborough, Lord Eldon and Lord Wynford did oppose the beneficent reforms which were advocated by Sir James Mackintosh and Sir Samuel Romilly, which we all now know in these days could not be possibly controverted in any way. It is now, therefore, thought that no judge can hold an opinion which is not reactionary. I am not suggesting that your Lordships who will support this Bill will take quite the same view of the Judiciary as some of the writers in some of the well-known Sunday newspapers, the name of one of which has been mentioned in the debate to-day by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor.

I think perhaps the thing that sticks most in my mind is that I am denounced as a "bewigged obscurantist", an imputation which I must suffer with such fortitude as I can command; but I doubt whether it is really helpful in 1956 to be discussing the views which judges, of whatever eminence, held in 1817 and 1820, when, to do them justice, be it remembered, there was no police force and life and property were far less secure than they are to-day. But, still, no one would suggest that there should be any return, or any thought of return, to the penalties which in those days used to be given for larceny, burglary or any other crimes against property. I am open to correction. So far as I have read on this subject, neither Sir Samuel Romilly nor Sir James Mackintosh, and certainly not Sir Robert Peel, who was the architect of all the legislation which abolished those terrible penalties, was ever dealing with murder at all. It was never suggested, so far as I read the debates, that murder should be not visited with the capital penalty. That issue was not under debate.

What brought about the change that occurred in the 1820's and the 1830's was the force of public opinion, the fact that juries would not convict or, if convicting, would find the property to be only of such trivial value that the sentence of death could not be pronounced. If the supporters of this measure could satisfy this House that public opinion demanded it, then a wholly different set of circumstances would arise. But, so far as I can see, there is no real demand in the country for this Bill, and certainly it has never been submitted to the electorate. I do not see that, merely because one gets almost overwhelmed with letters and resolutions, and one thing and another, begging one to oppose this Bill, that is any real, accurate gauge of public opinion. I can find no indication anywhere that the country is really in favour of this momentous change.

But let me now come to a few arguments which are perhaps more germane to 1956 and to the subject which is under discussion to-day. At the present time the Metropolitan Police are approximately 20 per cent. under strength— something like 4,000 men under strength. In all the great cities of England the position is the same. In Liverpool they are 25 per cent. under strength; in Birmingham 16 per cent., and in Manchester 15 per cent. Incidentally, I have it on the authority of the chief constable of one county that he has never known a time in which so many of his officers are taking out policies of life assurance. Your Lordships also know that the prison service is seriously undermanned, which perhaps accounts for the somewhat disturbing number of escapes from orison of which we read from time to time, and which certainly seem to be more frequent than was formerly the case. I ask your Lordships therefore, is this the time to remove what, rightly or wrongly, the police and the prison service believe to be their main protection against attack?

We must remember that the police of this country are armed with only a short baton—that is the only weapon they have against gunmen and other people who do not hesitate, if they think it necessary, to shoot and take the lives of policemen. I am sure that if this Bill passes it will encourage resignation from the police force and make recruitment more difficult—this at a time when, owing to the habit of carrying weapons in the street, gun warfare and so forth, Parliament only three years ago intervened and made it an offence for a person to carry an offensive weapon in the street without lawful cause and excuse. That Bill was commonly called the "Cosh Bill" and under it there have been a good many convictions. The reason for the passing of that Bill was that it is a short step from carrying one of those weapons to using it.

When the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, was before Parliament there were two main subjects of debate. One was the suspension of capital punishment and the other was the abolition of corporal punishment. Your Lordships will remember that at first in this House your Lordships rejected both those proposals. Afterwards, the other place gave way on capital punishment and your Lordships gave way on corporal punishment; and so it went out to the world that thereafter there was to be no such thing as corporal punishment—no whipping for any offence whatsoever. I then ventured to make a prophecy. I thought that although the only form of violence for which whipping could be ordered was robbery with violence, the mere fact that it had gone out that whipping or any form of corporal punishment had gone for ever would encourage violence. Unfortunately, the prophecy which I ventured to make has been fulfilled, as I will show your Lordships in a moment. In recent years, since 1951, crime generally has shown a most happy decline. To the year 1954, from the peak year of 1951, crime generally has fallen by no less than 21 per cent. But crimes of violence have increased during that time, and so has sexual crime, which so often leads to violence.

Let me give your Lordships two or three figures—I am not going to bore you with long statistics. These are the criminal statistics down to the year 1954. In 1947, the year the Bill was passed although it did not become effective until 1948, the number of persons convicted for violence against the person was 2,504, a shocking increase over the last year before the war, 1938, when the total was only 1,583. The next year, 1948, the figure had risen to 3,183; in the year following that to 3,303, and there has been a progressive rise in violence ever since; so that in 1954, the last year for which I have the official figure (the 1955 criminal statistics are not yet published) the number had risen to 4,584. That is a matter which should give one serious thought. It may be—I cannot tell, because now the criminal statistics do not distinguish between robbery with violence and other forms of violence, but these are the convictions for violence against the person. It is now known that in 1954 4,580 people were convicted for some shocking form of violence.

But it is said that experience in other countries indicates mat the abolition of the capital sentence does not lead to an increase in murder and is no effective deterrent. This point was dealt with by the Lord Chancellor yesterday, and I do not propose to dwell upon the difference existing between other countries and this country. For instance, I think it is common knowledge that the police in all Latin countries are armed, and it would indeed be a sad day for this country if we had to arm our police. But I agree —and so would anybody else who has thought about the matter—that the presence or absence of capital punishment on the Statute Book will not affect certain forms of murder. It will not affect the man who kills his young woman because, as he puts it, "If I cannot have you, no one else shall have you." It will not have much effect, ex hypothesi, on murders by lunatics, and I do not know that it will have very much effect in regard to wife murders. I do not know whether any of your Lordships saw a reference to a particular case the other day when a man was convicted of a dreadful assault against his wife. It was given in evidence that he said to her, "If it was not that I could 'swing' for it, I would do you in." That is the sort of crime that I think the death penalty prevents.

But I should agree entirely with the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, that the greatest deterrent against crime is, naturally enough, the certainty or high probability of detection and arrest. Why? That must be followed by conviction. And why again? Because conviction will lead to punishment. It is no good arresting people or telling them that they will be liable to arrest, if no punishment is to follow. I do not wish to make a joke of the subject, but what would be the effect on the people who are arrested if they knew that all that would happen to them is that they would be sent away to a sanatorium or to some other equally convenient or comfortable place? As it is, if this Bill is passed, judges will not be able to give any greater punishment for deliberate, wilful murder than they can give now for burglary, for the offence of sacrilege (breaking into a church) or for forgery of a will. Though I do not say that it is likely that, except in very exceptional cases, the maximum sentence of life imprisonment is given for those offences, from time to time it certainly is given for violence and wounding, although it may be perfectly certain from the nature of the wounding that death was not intended.

Why is it that these ruffians who use razors, coshes, knuckledusters and broken bottles—and of all the horrible weapons a broken bottle is about the worst when it is jammed in another man's face—always stop short of murder in these cases? They can wound—and they can horribly wound; wounds which very likely require the insertion of twenty or five and twenty stitches into a man's face, and which mark him for life. But they stop short of murder. I am convinced that they do not stop short of murder out of any principles of humanity. The people they fight or attack in this way are men they hate, men they want to put out of action if they can—they loathe and hate them. Although very likely the injured person is another gangster, and no better than the man who attacks him, we certainly do not want to have London, or parts of the greater industrial cities, turned into the sort of shambles that has been attributed to some cities in America in the past.

I had a very striking instance of this matter last year, and although I know the danger, very often, of arguing from the particular to the general, this case was such a remarkable case that I think I am justified in reminding your Lordships of it. Three men, two of whom had just come out of a long sentence in Dartmoor, with another man who was a younger man but with a very bad record, armed themselves with two revolvers and a motor car—and it is disturbing to think how easily some of these men seem to be able to get revolvers; and of course the motor car has introduced new problems into crime. Having armed themselves in this way, the three of them went at half past twelve in the afternoon to a jeweller's shop facing Earl's Court station, which they robbed at the point of the revolver. Fortunately, the number of the car was taken and was circulated, and in a very short time—it shows how extraordinarily efficient the police are in these matters—a patrol car in Hyde Park picked up the bandits' car and chased it. As they were leaving the Park—they managed to get out of the Park by Stanhope Gate—one of the men leaned out of the window and fired twice at the police car. One bullet went wide and might have killed any person walking in the Park. The other shattered the windscreen, and one of the policemen was rather badly cut.

The chase continued, and as the men turned from South Audley Street into Curzon Street they fired again, twice. They had made a mistake in going into Curzon Street at that time of day, because the block of traffic prevented them from getting any further; and they jumped out and ran away. One of them ran along and ran down Queen Street, firing his revolver. He shattered the window of a refreshment house in Queen Street. The other man—and I took this into account in the sentence I gave—followed him, shouting, "Don't shoot." Of course he was now shouting "Don't shoot". They had been Shooting from the car, but now, if they shot, it was almost certain that they would kill someone, and he knew what the result would be then.

When a young policeman, with the greatest possible courage, ran to tackle this armed ruffian, he shot at him; but he shot deliberately, aiming low at the policeman's leg. It brought the policeman down, of course, and he was badly wounded. The shot missed his femoral artery by about a hair's-breadth; if it had hit it the policeman might have died. That man, I am convinced, fired low in the way he did because he did not want to murder a policeman when he knew the consequence. He shot his way out. He got away at the time, but he was arrested two days afterwards, and the first question he asked the chief inspector who arrested him was "Give us a break, guvnor. Is the 'copper' dead?" That was what he was afraid—was the 'copper' dead? Fortunately he was not. Still, the man was put away for some time in a place where I do not think he will be found. But as I say, it was a case in which one was justified in accepting a verdict of "shooting with intent to avoid arrest," and not "with intent to murder," because I was quite certain that the last thing he wished to do was to kill, although he wished to maim. If it had not been for his knowledge that if he did kill a policeman the death sentence would inevitably follow, I do not believe for a moment that young policeman would have been alive to-day.

My Lords, these instances which are brought home to one in one's life make me say, with all the earnestness I can command; do not gamble with the lives of the police—because I believe it will be gambling with the lives of the police if this penalty is taken away. The police themselves think it is, and they are pretty good judges of this subject. Indeed, it must be a gamble, because it can only be a matter of opinion as to whether or not the abolition of the death sentence will increase murders, or encourage people, when they find themselves in a tight corner, to shoot. As I have shown your Lordships, from indisputable figures, that was the result in the increase of crimes of violence which the abolition of corporal punishment seems to have had. Even if it was not the abolition of corporal pulishment that had that effect, or caused the rise in the convictions for violence, it is a serious enough state of affairs that nowadays there are getting on for 5,000—I will not exaggerate; the figure is 4,600—people in this country being convicted of serious crimes of violence against their fellow citizens.

I do not mean for one moment to shirk the ultimate question. It is not only the police that I am speaking for. What about the poisoner, the man who, over a period, administers poison to a member of his family or somebody else, and sees the victim dying. What about the small shopkeeper? There have been so many crimes in the last two or three years in which the victims were poor women, old women in shops, and people like that. There was a dreadful case a few weeks ago which came before us in the Court of Criminal Appeal, of a little spinster, four feet nine inches in height, living on the edge of some mining village, I think it was, and so afraid of being attacked that she had had all the windows of her cottage screwed up. A young brute of about twenty-three, I think he was, broke into that house. He got in. He battered that poor little creature to death; all her ribs were broken and he cut her throat. All he got out of it was a small quantity of rather trivial jewellery which he managed to take and went away. Are those people to be kept alive?


That man was reprieved.


My noble friend Lord Raglan is perfectly right. The man was reprieved, and he was reprieved after I had seen the report of the medical men who were sent up to examine him by the Home Secretary. Their report was that neither on legal nor medical grounds was there any reason to say he was insane. And yet he was reprieved.

I do not want on this occasion to get into conflict with the Executive, and I do not want to discuss how far it is constitutional, merely because one House of Parliament has passed a Bill like this, for a general dispensation to be given for crimes of murder. I would only say that if anybody takes the trouble to pull down the Statutes and reads the Bill of Rights he will see that it is there declared, on the Motion of the House of Commons, that the exercise of a general dispensation, as it has recently been exercised—that is to say, on every occasion—is contrary to law. And I believe it is. However, I am not going into that matter now.

Now, my Lords, I ask one other question. How is it possible for the law to be a deterrent, or for there to be a deterrent in arrest, unless there is an element of retribution also in the punishment that is to be given? Why is it wrong, I ask, to avenge criminal conduct? Why is it wrong for a civilised country to say that they will avenge criminal conduct? I believe it is a sign of a healthy conscience in a country that they are determined—if they are determined—to avenge crime. Once one begins to palter with that sentiment then crime will increase. There may be, as there always have been, many matters on the Statute Book which were regarded as crimes and which public opinion revolted against or would no longer consider as crimes and which, in consequence, became obsolete or were repealed and removed from the calendar of crime. But I do not see how it can be said to be either non-Christian or can be regarded in any other way than as praiseworthy that the country should be willing to avenge crime; for, so far as I understand, that is the only way in which the community can show their detestation of crime and their resolve that, if possible, it should be stamped out.

There are many other topics on which one could talk on this matter. There is, for instance, life imprisonment. I say at once that life imprisonment, although passed as a sentence, is one which can never, in fact, be carried out. It would be a terrible sentence—to tell a man of five-and-twenty or thirty years that for the rest of his life he is to be kept away from his fellows, except fellow criminals, and in prison. It is terrible to know, as one does know from talking with prison governors and other people who have great experience in these matters, of the utter, spiritual, mental and physical deterioration that sets in after a man has served a long term of imprisonment. I should shrink from the very idea of saying that for murder there should be life imprisonment, in the full sense. Therefore, the decision as to the proper penalty is thrown back on to the judge. The judge will be able to pass no different sentence for a cruel, wicked or deliberate murder than he can now pass upon a burglar, a forger or those guilty of far less serious crimes.

Let me say, however, as I said in my evidence to the Royal Commission, that I think the time is ripe for consideration of the amendment of the law of murder. It will be a difficult task, but difficulties exist to be overcome, and I believe that the law of murder can and ought now to be amended in many respects. No judge likes passing sentence of death in a case in which he knows quite well that the penalty will not be carried out. I believe that there are many amendments which may be made to the law relating to provocation and implied malice. Those are all matters which ought to be taken in hand, and I believe that if they were, public uneasiness on these questions would be greatly assuaged.

It is often said that the matter is too difficult. I have always wondered why there has not been more recourse to the Report of the Criminal Law Commissioners, which was published as long ago as 1879 and suffered the fate that the opinions of most Royal Commissions appear to suffer. It was an attempt by the Criminal Law Commissioners to codify the criminal law. They produced a very remarkable report in which they endeavoured to codify the law of murder; that is to say, they put forward a code which, had it been adopted, would have been the law to-day. The Report is, of course, in existence and no doubt may be in the Library of this House. At any rate, the law of murder, as suggested in the code of the Criminal Law Commissioners, will be found in Volume 3 of Stephenson's History of Criminal Law of England. If that code were adopted, I believe a very great and beneficent change in the law could take place.

I believe that the present system works well because of the exercise of the Royal Prerogative in all cases where any mitigation is perceivable. I believe noble Lords can remain assured (and here I am not talking of just recently, when everybody has been reprieved, but generally) that no murderer was ever hanged if there was any matter of mitigation at all to be found. Every case is examined not only by the Home Secretary himself but by his trusted and experienced advisers, and I believe the result is that the only people who are hanged in England are those, who are guilty of cruel, wicked and deliberate murder.

May I before I sit down, say a word on a matter which was referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, this morning—suggestion that in my evidence before the Royal Commission I said that I thought the man Ley was insane but that nevertheless I considered that he ought to have been hanged. Put like that, without knowing the facts and the context in which I speaking, it sounded as if I was suggesting that insane murderers should be hanged. Ley was a man who had at one time been a Cabinet Minister in New South Wales. He left New South Wales for the good of that State and had been operating over here. When I tried him I thought there was no doubt that there were traces of insanity, although he would not allow a defence of insanity to be put up. He was reprieved because it was found that he was suffering from that particular form of insanity called paranoia, which means that a man will argue logically from wrong premises.

Ley had a delusion that his victim, a young man who happened to be lodging in the same house as the woman with whom Ley had formerly lived, had had a liaison with this woman. In fact she was twice the age of the young man. That idea was entirely wrong, for in fact the young man had never even spoken to the woman; but that was in Ley's mind. He therefore determined that he would have that young man murdered, and hired bravoes to kidnap the youth and to bring him to a basement in South Kensington. He hired another man (who I hope is still in prison) to murder him and bury his body on a chalk pit at Woburn. The reason why I said Ley should have been hanged was this: he knew perfectly well what murder was He knew perfectly well that murder was wrong; he knew it was wicked and against the law. The reason why Ley wanted the young man murdered was simply that he thought he had been carrying on a liaison with his (Ley's) former mistress. If that is to excuse murder, then any man who honestly believes he has suffered a wrong, even though the belief turned out to be quite unfounded, ought also to be reprieved; for what is the difference?

It may be that owing to a defect of reasoning this man had some fixed idea in his head that he had been wronged; but he had no fixed idea in his head that murder was right or that murder was not forbidden by law. He came exactly within the Macnaghten Rules. He may have had this defect of mind, but, even though he had nothing to do with carrying out the crime, if he was not to be executed then every soldier who came back from the war and was told, often quite untruly, as many were, that their wives had been unfaithful to them, would have been justified or could have been reprieved if they had gone out and deliberately murdered either the man whom they suspected was the seducer, or the wife. That was the reason why I said, and still think, that it would have been perfectly legitimate to hang Ley, because except on that one matter he was apparently as sane as any other person might be.

I felt it my duty to put my views before your Lordships. I know I have put them before you strongly, because it is a matter upon which, from experience, one does get to feel strongly. And I believe it is right that one should not be afraid to express one's belief. I still believe that a man who deliberately murders another has committed the supreme crime and should pay the supreme penalty.

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, I think I shall best serve the interests of this debate if I state, as briefly as I can and with as little argument as I can, the final and conclusive considerations which will direct my vote to-night. And in doing so I take some account of the moving and weighty speech, based on vast experience, to which we have just listened. First, I accept the doctrine of the Church that the State has the right, in the name of God and of society, to impose the death penalty. There are those who regard the death penalty for murder as the last surviving relic of a particular kind of barbarism. Indeed it has been ill-used and barbarously used in the past. Churches have used it to punish heresy. States have used it to protect the trivialities of property.

But in our day the death penalty is used in the one legitimate way open to it. Society may use it in defence of society itself. A murderer contradicts and violates the fundamental first principle on which society rests: that every member of it will respect the life of every other member and will at least allow him to live. Where murder exists, it is the first duty of society—I particularly put it in this way—to repair the damage done by murder to its own integrity, and to bear witness to the majesty of its own first principles. That, I would say, is its sole duty in this matter. That is Christian doctrine, and, like my fellow Primate, I disagree profoundly with those sincere but mistaken people who regard the death penalty as a thing altogether and always un-Christian and wrong. The progress of this Bill owes not a little to those who hold these mistaken views. If I vote for it, it may seem that I agree with them when, in fact, I totally disagree with them. If I vote for the Bill, it will be in spite of them and for quite different reasons.

Next I ask myself this question: if society may legitimately employ this penalty, ought it to continue to do so? And I find my answer to be: Yes, but not without certain changes in its application. I say "Yes" for one sufficient reason—that with which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice concluded his speech. The death penalty is a witness to the sacredness of human life and of social order, which no society, perhaps, should ever altogether dispense with, and which our society to-day certainly cannot afford to dispense with altogether. I say, "a witness to the sacredness of human life". For, in fact, to require a man to surrender his life (as in defence of his country), or to take it from him because of his evil use of it, may be the greatest possible tribute to its intrinsic value. And there is evidence that the imminence of death has a very great power in opening the eyes of a condemned man to that truth and so to God.

I say we cannot afford to dispense with it. It is always difficult to assess public opinion, but I think, as many others do, that general opinion requires that in some form the terrible, irrevocable and cleansing witness which this penalty gives against the crime of murder should continue. I agree, and I think it would be dangerous and wrong to frustrate that requirement. But while I am not an abolitionist, I find it very difficult to give a vote which would appear to support the continuance of the present system unchanged. For I believe that it is too clumsy to continue as it is in an age where scientific accuracy is a primary requirement, where everyone is more sensitive than he used to be to the chance of cruelty and error in punishment, where there has been revealed to us most embarrassing knowledge about the way in which the human mind works, and where, I would add, sensationalism can and does exploit this topic in unwholesome and repulsive ways.

May I explain what I mean by calling this method too clumsy to continue as it is? It is certainly clumsy as a deterrent. No one can tell for certain how much deterrent effect it has. And this very uncertainty leads to endless argument and makes any conclusion based upon it doubtful. In certain societies—and the noble Viscount. Lord Malvern, had this properly very much in mind—its deterrent effect could be quite obvious and its retention justified on that ground alone. But the evidence does not make me think that the abolition of the death penalty here would in fact increase the number of murders. Certainly, there is no scientific basis of ascertained fact here upon which we can rely, and as I listened to the Lord Chief Justice referring to the dreadful rise in crimes of violence I could not but say that in one sense that is an argument in itself against the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent. But I cannot rest myself on deterrence.

Then the argument of retribution is brought in. That is not only clumsy, too, but a very dangerous argument. To defend society against murder is one thing. To repay the murderer for what he has done, which is the strict meaning of retribution, is a far more perplexing and dangerous undertaking. In fact. it cannot be done at all. Nothing equivalent to the evil the murderer has done can ever be inflicted on him. And the attempt to do it, the desire to do it, even the lust to do it, attacks us all on our weakest side. The more repulsive the crime, the more violent is our desire that the murderer should hang. But that is, or may easily be, nothing more than a surrender on our part to emotionalism and an indulgence by us in a vengeful passion. Scripture was right when it said: Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. For man cannot repay. In fact we cannot balance evil done with punishment endured and we should not attempt to build our system on that. We must, I think, frankly recognise, that some who are less evil than others may yet have to hang, and some who have shown themselves far more evil may yet escape with their lives. This system as it is now cannot rest itself on deterrence, except in some particulars I shall come to in a moment, or on retribution, but only on its general accuracy in defending society and in defending the moral law.

Here comes another great evidence of its clumsiness. Something like 50 per cent. of those who are condemned to death are reprieved. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice has referred to this. The death sentence is passed, and most rightly it is invested with all the solemnity that the occasion demands. The judge, in the name of the whole community and before God, sentences the murderer to death by hanging, and in the most solemn and searching words sends him to face the judgment seat of God. And almost as often as not a reprieve follows, and the solemn form has become an empty form. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice said, in delivering it a judge may know that in the very words he uses he is using an empty form. That seems to me a most dreadful situation.

The Home Secretary is brought in, very properly, to correct the errors of the present system. He does it with immense care; but should it be required of him? A 50 per cent. margin of error in the operation of the system is certainly evidence of clumsiness, and that at a point where it can least be tolerated in the quiet mind. I may say that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice immensely increased my uneasiness on this point by a passing remark he made just now, that a reprieve could be granted in spite of the fact that there was no medical or legal evidence calling for it.

So, by this system, uncertainty is introduced where, above all, finality should be final. The way is opened for all the doubts and hesitations of which the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, and all of us are acutely aware. The death penalty is no longer left as it should be, clearly and decisively the voice of the community, bearing its witness purposefully, deliberately and prayerfully to solemn laws of society and of God. It becomes instead a matter of controversy and thereby loses its power to speak as it should speak. Whatever we may do to-day, that power has already been largely lost, and neither a change of majority in another place nor an overruling of the other place by your Lordships' House can restore to this penalty the moral value that it should have. Only a general agreement amongst us all or a reasonable adjustment in the system can do that. And if all I have said were not enough, those organs of publicity which drown murder and hanging in a flood of emotional and sensational exploitation have robbed the system as it stands, as they have robbed so much else in our lives and social order, of all its proper dignity and sense of eternal worth.

What then, since I cannot happily altogether abolish or altogether retain the present system? There seems to be afforded to us in this House at this moment a real opportunity of retaining the true place for the death penalty in the moral order of our society, while removing some of its features which seem clumsy or dangerous or specially open to criticism. We are told on the highest legal authority that it is impossible to introduce "degrees of murder". It may be so: I am not sure. But I am sure that it is possible to introduce categories of murder for which the death penalty shall remain, categories so clearly and conclusively defined that all uncertainties in this field are removed and the need for reprieve almost totally abolished. By this means, many of the fears to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice rightly directed our attention would be at least alleviated and largely abolished. There are murders committed against society itself in the person of its appointed guardians—the murder of a policeman on duty, the murder of a warder. There are murders which show deliberation and premeditation and some preparatory action, certainly when the murderer is carrying arms or a lethal weapon, possibly when the murderer employs poison, perhaps when it can be shown that over a period of time the murderer has planned and plotted. Any category which is capable of an exact definition could be included as liable to the death sentence.

Within these given categories the deterrent power of the death penalty obviously would have its maximum possible effect, for a murderer would have to put himself into the reach of the death penalty by deliberate act. He would have openly declared war on society, and that not in a moment of passion but of choice. In such cases there would be no room for self-delusion, for uncertainty or for reprieves. The death sentence would be passed with all its solemnity and there would be a final and decisive proclamation of the moral truth of society. I must make one observation. It is true that some murders, some of the most abominable murders, would fall outside the categories and would escape the death penalty. They would be murders chiefly of a specially beastly and passionate kind. I think that if any are to be excepted from the death penalty, it had better be these. Society already repudiates them sufficiently by its own reaction of horror. There is nothing attractive about them and it is just in them that the temptation to indulge in this dangerous passion of "making him pay" or of "making her pay" is at its strongest and its indulgence most likely to be harmful to our own moral sense. Their exclusion from the death penalty will make them less valuable for exploitation by sensational journalism.

I believe that there is an opportunity before us so to amend this Bill as to make it of real service to the common good, and that we ought to take it. Thereby we should lift this matter, as it should be lifted and, I would say, must be lifted, above the issues of majority voting in one House or another and above clashes between Lords and Commons, on to a firm basis of reasoned action and of respect for the majesty of the law and the true voice of the community. I do not call this a compromise, for it will be abhorrent to the root and branch abolitionists. I do call it a course of wisdom. Most other people, apart from the abolitionists, could come to a common mind. I believe that if we were to take this line, the Commons very likely would agree with us on it, and so we should avoid the confusion of conflict between our two Houses. If they did not agree, at least we should stand then on much firmer ground than we should by simply rejecting this Bill, and on ground which, having taken, we could properly refuse to abandon.

I cannot simply vote to retain the present system; I cannot simply vote for its abolition, though I may find myself in the uneasy position of appearing to do so. I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, hoping earnestly, and believing that, if it is given a Second Reading, it will certainly be amended in Committee—the function which this House exists specially to perform. I believe that by amendment this may be made a wise measure on the merits of the case; one that would bring relief of conscience and judgment to many who are unhappy with the present system. And by bringing the two Houses into agreement it will refound the death penalty on its only secure and legitimate foundation as an act expressing the general will of the community for the defence of society and for the solemn vindication of the laws of God.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords. I think it a little hard that a mere elder of the Church of Scotland should have to join issue with the most reverend Primate on a measure of this kind. I may perhaps take some comfort in the thought that it will not be the first time that a Scottish Presbyterian had found himself in conflict with a Bench of Bishops. I have to say at once that I do not agree with the conclusion to which I understand the most reverend Primate has come in regard to this Bill. I think it will appear in the course of my speech how fully I agree with him in the substance of what he had to say, but I believe—although I do not claim to be an expert in these matters—that there are technical reasons why we could not effectively, after passing the Second Reading of this Bill, take the course which I understand him to advocate. I think that by passing the Second Reading we should be accepting the principle of the Bill. The principle of the Bill undoubtedly is total abolition, and that is a principle that I unhesitatingly reject.

deeply regret that in this matter I find myself at variance with my old friend and former colleague, Lord Templewood. I listened carefully to his speech yesterday. I found that I could agree with much of the detailed argument he put forward as to the unsatisfactory features of the present situation—and here, of course, I agree with the most reverend Primate. My noble friend Lord Templewood spoke of the existing law as being" evasive and sophistical"; he referred to what he regarded as the "too frequent use of the Prerogative" and the difficulties arising in connection with the application of the Macnaghten Rules. He said that those features tended, in his view, to diminish the certainty which I am sure we should all recognise as an essential element in deterrence. He pointed out that it is the existence of the death penalty that constitutes the main difficulty. Broadly, on that point, I am in complete agreement with my noble friend; but his arguments, like those of the most reverend Primate, seem to me clearly to be arguments for amendment and not for abolition.

I will take up as I go on, if I may, the other points raised in the course of my noble friend's speech. For the moment, I should merely like to say in regard to that speech that I am left in a position of some bewilderment. As Home Secretary, my noble friend Lord Templewood, I know, did his duty, as others had done before and have done since. I was a little concerned, I confess, at what he said about his attitude when, as the holder of another position, that of Secretary of State for Air, he had to deputise for the Home Secretary. His experience and mine in that matter have not coincided. I have had, on occasion, to submit a capital case, with all the concomitant material, to another Secretary of State, and I certainly did not go to that Secretary of State with any idea of merely obtaining a signature.

Be that as it may, I should like, before I pass from my comments on the speech of my noble friend, to say a word or two about the state of affairs in India when my noble friend was responsible to Parliament for Indian affairs. There the capital sentence had not merely been retained; it had been enlarged to cover other offences—attempted murder, and the carrying of arms in certain circumstances. With that experience behind him, I find it, I confess, a little difficult to understand how my noble friend can argue against the deterrent effect of the death penalty. If your Lordships will pardon a personal reference, when two miscreants attempted to murder me and were sentenced to death my noble friend could have moved the Crown to exercise clemency. That matter was left to me—and I make no complaint. I reprieved one; I let the other pay the extreme penalty. I am sure that my noble friend must recall that from that time terrorism in Bengal abated, and within a short time it disappeared entirely, never to return. I End there, in those circumstances, strong evidence in support of the deterrent effect of the death penalty.

I pass now to other points, some, though not all, of which were stressed by my noble friend. I was very glad indeed that the most reverend Primate, with other Lords Spiritual, unequivocally rejected the extreme ethical argument which would carry inevitably the implication that for centuries and up to the present day our forerunners had themselves been little better than murderers. I would repeat what I have said many times before (I have spoken so often on this subject that I can be quite brief), that the justification for the death penalty, as for other sanctions of the law, is to be found in the protection of society. In that matter I agree entirely with the most reverend Primate. I myself have absolutely no doubt as to the deterrent effect of capital punishment.

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said in his speech yesterday that he thought the argument as to deterrents had been "shot to pieces"—those were his words—by the evidence quoted in the Report of the Royal Commission. I cannot find any justification for that comment in the Report itself. In paragraph 68 of the Report we find these words—I will not quote in exuasoWe recognise that it is impossible to arrive confidently at firm conclusions about the deterrent effect of the death penalty … Prima facie the penalty of death is likely to have a stronger effect as a deterrent to normal human beings than any other form of punishment, and there is some evidence (though no convincing statistical evidence) that this is in fact so. But this effect does not operate universally or uniformly, This is the final sentence, with which I respectfully agree: It is accordingly important to view this question in a just perspective and not to base a penal policy in relation to murder on exaggerated estimates of the uniquely deterrent force of the death penalty. May I, as I have referred to the noble Lord's speech of yesterday, say just one word incidentally about a comment that he made on a classification of capital cases which has been circulated widely? He found in that classification, if I understood him aright, strong grounds for condemning the past action of the Home Office in regard to the exercise of the Prerogative of mercy. I absolutely and utterly disagree. I have studied with great care the document in question. I impute no improper motive to those who were responsible for its circulation, but in fact in the catalogue of offences which is there contained there is no balanced perspective on all the essential features.

Take the case that was cited by my noble friend Lord Astor this morning, the case of the man Rivett—No. 17, I think, in the catalogue of offences. Reading the description of that man's crime, as set out in that document, anyone would be horrified to think that that man had been allowed to go to execution. But the true facts of the case are quite different. The true facts, which could not have been known to the authors of this pamphlet—and that ought to be a warning against the unguarded circulation of general statements—are that three prison medical officers had given evidence that Rivett was insane, suffering from schizophrenia. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, could not have known that the medical inquiry (and the Home Secretary is under a statutory obligation to hold a medical inquiry in every case of a person lying under sentence of death who might be thought to be insane) found no trace of any mental disorder or of organic disease of the brain, and could find no medical grounds for leniency. The three prison medical officers who had found evidence of schizophrenia were, after further consideration, no longer of the opinion that the person suffered from that condition, whatever it may be. That is only one case. I could go on to cite others, but I will merely say that I most emphatically repudiate the adverse reflections that my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara based upon his study of that particular document.


May I ask whether the facts the noble Viscount has produced were available for the authors of this pamphlet, or whether he received private information which was not generally available?


I had no private information, but I have been given the opportunity of studying the facts since. As I say, I make no imputation against the authors of this pamphlet; in fact, they did not have any knowledge of the facts which I have brought forward. But what alternative had I but to call attention to the true facts? As I say, I could cite in detail the other cases which are set out in that pamphlet.

It is a fact, of which I am sure the noble Viscount was not aware, that not only in every case where a person under sentence of death could reasonably be thought to be insane is the Home Secretary under a statutory obligation to hold an inquiry (if the medical inquiry finds the person to be insane the Home Secretary has no alternative but to commute the death sentence), but also in all other cases where there may be reason to suppose that a person, though not insane, is suffering from some defect of reason, he holds, as an invariable matter of practice, an extra-statutory inquiry and is guided by the results.

As I have said, I have no doubt at all in my own mind as to the deterrent effect of the capital sentence. I recognise, as other speakers have done, that there is force in the argument that capital punishment is a blot on our penal system, and that if we can get rid of it we may be able to build a better community with a more humane tradition. In that matter I agree, very respectfully, with what the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York had to say yesterday.

It is often said that one of the main arguments against the retention of the death penalty is that it is irrevocable. That is put forward by abolitionists as an argument against the capital penalty. In my view, if the risk of mistake can, for practical purposes, be eliminated, the fact that the death penalty is irrevocable is its main merit. Yesterday my noble friend Lord Templewood and the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack gave their personal experiences in handling the problem of capital sentences in relation to the question of exercising the Prerogative. The noble and learned Viscount made no secret of his conclusion, after the most careful consideration, that, for practical purposes the risk of mistake can be regarded as non-existent. I have had experience throughout periods extending in all to no less than eighteen years, during which I have been in close contact with this problem, and during which I have had, as a matter of duty, to consider every case of capital penalty and endeavour to form a personal judgment. So far as I am aware, there was no case during the whole of that period, or those periods, amounting, as I have said, to no less than eighteen years, in which a mistake had been committed. Naturally, of course, the possibility of mistake can never be excluded from human affairs, but so far as this particular matter is concerned, I feel justified, for what it is worth, in giving my full support to the conclusion which the noble and learned Viscount gave to the House yesterday.

I believe that the question to which we have to come to a conclusion is mainly a matter of balance of advantage and disadvantage. I think a day may well come when it may be safe to abolish the capital penalty. I should welcome that. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hore-Belisha in that respect, but I am quite convinced that at the moment the balance lies heavily on the side of retention. I stress the words "at the moment". What are the arguments for and against acting now? It has been said that there is ample experience now available of abolition in other countries and that no ill-effects have ensued.

Let me put briefly to your Lordships why, in my humble opinion, any such comparison is inevitably fallacious. I agree in that respect with the noble Lards, Lord Milverton and Lord Tweedsmuir. Take the Scandinavian countries. There, they have a community far more homogeneous than ours is here. As in America, we have a considerable immigrant population still not completely assimilated. Then, as has been pointed out by the noble Lords to whom I have just referred, we have, unlike the Scandinavian countries, a responsibility for good government over a wide variety of dependent territories Finally—and this is a point which has not been stressed before, I think—the incidence of political crime, crime committed with a political motive, is liable to become much heavier in this country by reason of our history and the nature of our external relations. I shall refer again to this matter before I sit down. Foreign experience, therefore, in my opinion, is not a valid argument for acting now. It offers no sure basis for action.

Then again, as has been pointed out more than once, the police are very gravely concerned. They are carrying a very heavy burden at the present time. I myself would certainly not be a party to adding to their anxieties at present. I agree in that respect fully with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. Prison authorities, to whom reference has also been made, are affected in a different way. I myself have never been able to see how the régime of penal administration could be adapted to deal with the problem of real life sentences without risk of an unfavourable impact on the traditions of humane administration which have been and are being so carefully built up. I myself believe so far as that aspect of the matter is concerned that more experience is required of the working of special types of institution.

Finally, in regard to political crimes, I am recorded in the Royal Commission's Report as having said that in our regard of the criminal law conceptions of retribution and atonement had been eliminated. I had in mind, of course, the old-fashioned conception of retribution as mere vengeance, the application of the lex talionis. I recognise that I ought to have qualified that statement by pointing out that in a limited class of case the extreme penalty may still have a retributive effect as expressing the community's abhorrence and condemnation of capital crime. That was rightly emphasised before the Royal Commission by Lord Justice Denning and others, and it has been emphasised in the course of this debate. All that leads me to say that, even if I were convinced, as I am not, that the general arguments for abolition on balance outweighed the arguments against, I should still hesitate before admitting justification for an amendment of the law that would remove entirely the one sanction by which a political crime can be visited, where there is no question of reform, where imprisonment carries no stigma and has no deterrent effect since, according to universal experience, it is invariably curtailed by some amnesty or act of oblivion.

People have said to me rather lightheartedly in that connection, "Oh, the risk of political crime can be disregarded." My Lords, can it? I have in mind, as I am sure some noble Lords have, the comparatively recent assassinations of Sir Henry Wilson and Sir Michael O'Dwyer, the latter almost within a stone's throw of this place. I have in mind, too, a case which most of your Lordships will probably have forgotten, the case of the Coventry murders by men called Barnes and Richards, I think, in 1940 when I was Home Secretary. I had to refuse to exercise the Prerogative of mercy in those cases although I received repeated representations from the other side of the Irish Channel and some representations, if the truth must be told, from my own colleagues, who held that the atmosphere would be sweetened if clemency could be shown. That was just the argument that was addressed to me many years ago by the aged Archbishop of Dublin when he was carried up to my room in Dublin Castle to plead for clemency for young Kevin Barry who had murdered a British soldier. I had to tell him, to my sorrow, that to do what he had asked would be to proclaim the helplessness of the law.


May I ask the noble Viscount this, because I remember all these circumstances? Is he claiming now that the policy he pursued of strict observance of rule was a success in the settlement with Ireland?


I would claim that, but it is not the moment to go into the whole matter. I should be very glad to talk about it to the noble Viscount. I know exactly what happened. The facts are not known to the public.


That is always the case.


The law was very effective. However, my argument in regard to political crimes stands by itself, and I have been greatly surprised that in the course of this debate there has been no reference to that aspect of the matter. Therefore, for all these reasons, I am going to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. I should be very glad indeed at a suitable opportunity to see the law amended to bring it more into accord with practice, to give effect to some of the points that were put so forcibly and so powerfully by the most reverend Primate. I believe that we are here confronted with a perfectly straight issue: for or against abolition. Abolition is the principle of this Bill and we have to decide whether or not we accept it. I believe that there are technical reasons why we could not conveniently use this Bill as a vehicle for amendment. For one thing, if, having passed the Second Reading of this Bill, we were to take the opportunity to endeavour to amend it, the amendment would have to proceed by way of bringing various offences back within the ambit of capital punishment. The proper course is to start by taking various categories of offences outside the scope of capital punishment.


The noble Viscount agrees that it is possible to do it the other way?


I think it may be. It would lead to a great deal of confusion if we at first declared against capital punishment in principle. But I may be wrong; I am open to argument about that. I have an open mind. I have said quite clearly that I would value an opportunity of taking part in a considered attempt to modify the law as it stands to-day. I do not think that that opportunity presents itself now, but I may be wrong. At any rate, so far as I am concerned, as at present advised, I would vote against the Second Reading.


May I be allowed to intervene to ask a question? It is rather an important point. Is is not possible for that matter to be resolved, so that we may know whether it is possible or impossible, for the reasons given, to amend the Bill in Committee? Cannot the Lord Chancellor tell us?


I was going to make exactly the same point. I ask the Lord Chancellor if he can tell us whether technically this Bill is capable of amendment in the way proposed by the most reverend Primate and others, or whether the contention put forward by the noble Viscount who is speaking, that it cannot easily be amended, is correct.


I do not profess to be speaking with any authority on this particular matter.


Before the Lord Chancellor answers, I should like to ask him this particular question. Has he any authority to limit the power of Parliament in this particular matter? The Speaker certainly has not. This is governed by the practice of Parliament. Is is proposed, therefore, that the Government—and the Lord Chancellor is part of the Government—should strive to limit the legislative capacity of this Chamber?


My Lords, I am a servant of your Lordships' House, and I am always prepared to give any assistance for which I am asked. I have no right, and I have never arrogated to myself—and I do not think that the noble Viscount, or any Member of your Lordships' House, has any right to suggest that I have—any further right of reply. I assure the noble Viscount that I speak in that spirit, as someone who has been asked that I give my view. I am not putting to the House any dictation from the Government, but it would be a poor day, I say to the noble Viscount, if noble Lords cannot ask me for my view. On that basis, I am prepared to answer it. If the noble Viscount objects, I will not.


On the contrary, I never suggested any impropriety by the Lord Chancellor. What I am suggesting is improper is that the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, should suggest to the House that an obiter dictum by even so eminent an authority as the Lord Chancellor could carry the force of constitutional procedure—it cannot. I think that the Lord Chancellor has correctly stated the case, that any judgment of his must be confirmed here by the vote of the House. That is the only authority that exists as to the procedure of the House.


He can give an opinion.


May we get back to the question that was asked of the Lord Chancellor and have an answer to it, and ignore these irrelevancies?


As I understand the position, there are two matters which we must consider. The first is the amendment of the law in regard to murder which has been mentioned in the course of this debate. That involves such things as removing the death penalty for suicide pacts, provocation, constructive malice and the doctrine of diminished responsibility. As I understand it, it would be extremely inconvenient, to say the least of it, and technically very difficult to discuss these matters on the present Bill. I have not in mind the question of the Title of the Bill, which would have to be considered by both Houses, but I see great difficulty in doing that. With regard to the other matter which the most reverend Primate has suggested, of making exclusions, for example, in the case of armed criminals and the shooting of a policeman, the murder of a prison officer, and the like, that would, as I understand it, be possible in your Lordships' House, just as it was possible that the Amendments should be discussed, and were rejected, on two occasions in another place.

I think one is then met by two points. One is the point that my noble friend Lord Waverley made, about the convenience of legislating by double exclusion; that is a matter of convenience which must be considered. The other matter, which is one entirely for your Lordships to consider, is, when the issue of abolition or no abolition has been put to your Lordships, whether you think it is a suitable occasion to take the other course. That is a matter of political Judgment on the whole of the circumstances. My Lords, I think I have put the position accurately, and I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, who I am sure has really no ill-feeling towards me, as I have not towards him, that it is simply done in the spirit of helping the House; and I hope the House will consider that I have, complied with my duty in so doing.


I am obliged to the Lord Chancellor. I am perfectly certain he intended nothing else, and I am entirely satisfied—



What I object to is the attempt to prohibit the amendment of this Bill. I should like to see amendment.


My Lords, as the Bill stands in my name, perhaps I might make an individual comment upon the situation. I say at once, without going into the merits of the particular Amendments that might or might not be moved, that I have always imagined that, supposing the Bill received a Second Reading here to-day, it would be possible for Peers to move the kind of Amendments that were moved in another place. If I heard the Lord Chancellor aright, it seems to me that he agrees with that view. As I say, I am not arguing upon the merits of any of these Amendments; I merely state my own view as the promoter of this Bill upon the present situation.


As my noble friend Lord Templewood mentioned me, may I just make clear that I was asked whether, in my view, it was possible. I thought that it was possible. I am not saying, and I hope your Lordships will not take it from me that I am saying, that it is desirable. It would be quite outside my province so to rule. Your Lordships must take that from the general line of the debate on which I I have already spoken.


May I say that I entirely agree with every word that the Lord Chancellor has said?

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to apologise to Lord Waverley for rising during his speech. I hope that he will not think that I was discourteous; but I thought he was resuming his seat. Rising so late on the second day of a debate like this makes one feel apologetic. If an apology is due, mine is this: that the cause of the abolition of capital punishment was one that was most dear to the heart of my grandfather and, as I feel about it as strongly as he did, and he was never able to campaign actively for it during his life, it seems to me particularly fitting that it should be the subject of my maiden speech in your Lordships' House.

As we have been reminded most properly from the Episcopal Benches, the subject matter of this Bill, or rather the principle behind it, is intimately concerned with the sanctity of human life. The law of the land in condemning murder is, of course, merely upholding the general moral principle that we should not kill another man. If human life is so precious that the taking away of it is an abominable crime, it is clear that it is also so precious that the taking away of it is an abominable punishment. In other words, the law of the land is making an exception of itself. In this particular matter it is raising itself above the general moral law. It is therefore up to these who support the present state of the law to justify it.

Certain speakers in the debate have attempted to throw the onus on to the abolitionists to show positively, not just generally, that the changes they propose would cause no actual ill. It seems to me clear that the onus is, in fact, on those who wish to preserve the present state of the law to justify the position whereby the law makes itself an exception to the moral law. I think we must also examine the statistics of rates of murder, and so forth, in so many countries, which have been most carefully compiled and so fully quoted, with this in mind: that if the statistics are to support the retentionists' case, they must be very clear and decisive in favour of it. If, as appears to be the case, the statistics are neutral in their tenor, if they are inconclusive, then they must be held, by their very inconclusiveness, to support the abolitionists' case, because the retentionists still have the fundamental difficulty of justifying their exception to the general moral law. In other words, it is not right or proper to hazard human lives upon doubtful statistics.

Now, if the argument from the sanctity of human life is strong, the argument from the incapacity of human judgment seems even stronger. It is not only the simple question which we are considering—what is the value to be placed upon a human life: we have also to go below even that to the deeper question: what right have we to set a value upon human life? To my mind, fundamentally speaking, no man has the moral authority to say to any other man, "You are not fit to live". Clearly, in certain circumstances, one man must take another man's life, but there must always be certain special circumstances justifying it. The most common of those circumstances, of course, is self-defence; and in self-defence one includes, in the end, warfare, and I think that the noble Viscount's particular point about political crime would also come under the heading of warfare. Political crime and high treason seem to me very clear cases where one may take human life to prevent worse outbreaks.

The second justification for taking life is that the State should take life rather than allow a murdered person's relatives to seek private vengeance. I have even heard or read that historians consider the frustration of private vengeance, the preventing of blood feuds, to have been historically the cause of princes' stepping in and insisting that all criminal matters should be judged by their own appointed judges. I do not know whether or not that is supported by learned scholars, but it seems to indicate that society may develop from a condition where the civil power has to step in to prevent private vengeance to a condition where the possibility of private vengeance is so remote that the State, while continuing to punish the crimes, need no longer punish them by death.

Several of your Lordships, speaking in this debate, both in support of the Bill and against it, have, I think, had in their minds that society may evolve in this sense, and one or two noble Lords who have been against the Bill have ventured the opinion that, sooner or later, the time may come when it will be possible to abolish capital punishment. From those noble Lords I differ merely on the question of timing. To my mind, the time has already come. I do not think for a moment that if the capital sentence were abolished for murder the relatives of the victim would take vengeance into their own hands. It may happen in gang warfare, but the people who indulge in gang warfare seem to be self-styled outlaws in any event—certainly the present law appears to have no terror for them.

Another point of which much has been made is the accusation—I feel that it is a very unkind and unfair accusation—that abolitionists are all fond of murderers and have no sympathy at all with the victims of murderers. I doubt if anyone would entertain that opinion for a moment. My own view is rather more strongly to the contrary. I do not believe, on all the facts that have been quoted, that hanging is, in fact, a unique deterrent. That it is a deterrent, and a considerable one, there is not the slightest doubt; but I do not believe that it is unique. I do not believe that no other punishment could be devised which would have as great a deterrent effect. I myself, feeling as strongly as I do how appalling these crimes of which one reads are, have no sympathy with the murderers at all. I find a line of poetry running through by head: Hanging is not good enough and flaying would be fair. Certainly I am convinced that hanging is not good enough as an answer from society to this problem.

The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, quoted the book of Genesis earlier, and he omitted, I think, to make mention of the sentence passed upon the first murderer. It was that he should not be killed, but that he should bear the mark of his deed for the rest of his life, and a modern playwright has put that in appallingly strong words: Nowhere Cain, nowhere, escape the fear of what men fear in you, to which Cain, in the play, replies: The punishment is more than I can bear. It is not correct to say that there is no punishment which could be devised that would be equally as great a deterrent as hanging. One noble Lord earlier mentioned that whereas, on the one hand, abolitionists are assailed with being too "soft" to murderers, on the other hand, they have also to face the argument that the imprisonment of a man for a very long time is a far more cruel sentence than death. So, assailed, in one breath, for being too lenient to murderers, and too harsh on them, in the next, it is difficult for the abolitionist to steer a course between the two.

I venture to think that a safe course between those two was pointed out to us yesterday by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Exeter, who suggested that the sentence for murder should be as it were, a compound one: the first part of it a peculiarly severe and rigorous form of imprisonment, subsequently modified to a milder form of imprisonment. This seems to me to satisfy all the requirements. The harsh part would satisfy the retributive necessities of justice and provide the great deterrent, whereas the milder part, by giving the man hope throughout his suffering of the severer part, would present him from despairing and therefore make much more probable his reform.

Above all, my Lords, such an alternative to the death sentence would be one which we as a society have full moral authority to inflict; it would restore to the law of murder the dignity which, as so many speakers have said to-day and yesterday, has been lost to it by reason of the complications that hedge it about. And, lastly, that solution would do far more honour to the claim which we consistently make to be a civilised Christian community.


Before the noble Lord sits down I should just like to ask him this question. I do not want to embarrass him at all; I think he made a good speech and I congratulate him on it. Does he think his quotation from Genesis is stronger than mine: Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.


I am not prepared to bandy texts with the noble Lord, but my own reading of that particular text is that it refers more to warfare than to individual murders.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure all noble Lords would like to congratulate the noble Lord who has just sat down on his maiden speech. We should all like to hear him often in this House. He was certainly quickly off the mark and wastes no time.

First, I would say how much I appreciated the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack yesterday, a speech which set not only my own mind, but, I am sure, many other minds, at rest. I feel, however, that Her Majesty's Government have made a great mistake in failing to take a much firmer hand and direction when this Bill was first introduced into another place. Surely this is a matter that should be determined by the Government with the full force of its power rather than be left to the emotions of a few in another place. This Bill has been aptly described by a Member of another place, a late Minister of the Government, as "an hysterical and unwanted Bill" and I have little doubt that the ordinary man in the street feels the same way about it.

I wonder whether your Lordships realise that the minority in this country in favour of this abolition has been supported by large funds, running into some five figures, provided by a certain person who has always carried on ceaseless propaganda against capital punishment. Just think of the jubilation among those criminals who would stop at nothing to gain their end if this Bill were to become law! Then, whatever these hardened criminals might do, they could only be classed with the ordinary "riff-raff" of crime, such as blackmailers and thieves, and would merely lose their liberty for a number of years. The dreadful fear of the last morning at the gallows would be no more.

We have heard a great deal about the murderer but what about the victims? That aspect has been touched on very slightly by the last speaker. Have we forgotten the terrible Haigh murders when old ladies were lured to their doom and their bodies decomposed in sulphuric acid? Have we forgotten the murderer who raped a series of young women and strangled and mutilated them at Bournemouth? I believe it is only right that we should remember these sordid details and not be swayed by emotion and sickly sentiment such as we have seen happen in another place.

What has happened is that the abolitionists have perhaps succeeded in establishing the principle that the suggested change is right unless it can be proved to be wrong. I suggest that it would be far better for those who wish to abolish capital punishment to show why the change in law would be beneficial; and I maintain that that has not been done in this debate or in another place. We have read in the Reports of another place lurid descriptions of hanging and the death cell, and even what a condemned man has said, and other irrelevant details. We have even been asked to see a film in which Miss Diana Dors stars—all this, I suppose, with a view to raising peoples' emotions against retention of capital punishment.

Like the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, I should have liked to see emotions raised in another direction—in the direction of the mangled body of the victim, perhaps that of a little child whom a murderer has set upon and done to death. Think of the distress in that child's family at the loss of such a precious little person. Are we not to have our emotions stirred in that direction rather than towards the beastly, low type of individual who, for lust, has just carried out an abominable murder? Why should we maintain this inhuman brute at the expense of the taxpayer when we can hardly pay sufficient money to keep old age pensioners alive? There is only one place for these brutes—the death cell. And I suggest that we do not fall into the mistake of always considering this type of murderer to be insane, for it is not so. In some quarters it is said that such individuals have a governing passion and need the assistance of a psychiatrist. I suggest that it is not wise to risk the lives of women and children by allowing such murderers to stay alive and perhaps to escape from prison and carry out their nefarious business again. Not very long ago we had the Straffen case when a guilty man escaped and within a short time strangled another small child.

We must always legislate for the habitual criminal whose whole life has been spent in crime. If this Bill becomes law, we should find these brutes carrying weapons, not to protect themselves but to assist their escape, possibly by shooting a witness. There is no doubt that the problem of the police will be made vastly more difficult. Already we have gang warfare in our midst, and the police would have to be prepared to attack armed criminals. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has said that crimes of violence have been decreasing, and he used that as an argument for doing away with capital punishment. I would remind the House that quite the contrary is the case. I have looked up the figures. In 1938 crimes of violence against the person amounted to 2,721, but in 1954 they were 7,506—hardly a reduction in numbers. There are very many old people who live alone, and it is our duty to protect them as much as possible from violence. Surely this is not a matter for the individual conscience of Members of your Lordships' House. I should say that it is a matter for the security and well-being of the public, and that should be our first consideration.

It has been argued that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder. I believe the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, mentioned one paragraph in the Report of the Commission. May I draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 59 of the Report, which reads: We think it is reasonable to suppose that the deterrent force of capital punishment operates not only by affecting the conscious thoughts of individuals tempted to commit murder, but also by building up in the community, over a long period of time, a deep feeling of peculiar abhorrence for the crime of murder. 'The fact that men are hung for murder is one great reason why murder is considered so dreadful a crime '. Surely from this statement it is clear that the Royal Commission felt capital punishment was a deterrent.

I maintain that this Bill indicates that murder is no longer to be regarded as the most abhorrent of crimes, because the very special penalty will have been taken away and there will be other crimes carrying almost the same punishment as the convicted murderer will receive. I suggest that the case for the abolition of capital punishment has not been proved. I am sure it is quite wrong to attempt to bring about such a fundamental change in criminal law by means of a Private Member's Bill, and I hope your Lordships will refuse this Bill a Second Reading, not only because it is a Private Member's Bill but because you do not believe in the principle of the Bill.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in his able speech this morning, said statistics can never be taken as a reliable guide. Will he agree with me that if he studies the figures something significant can be drawn from the statistics of murders known to the police in England and Scotland and referred to in Table 3, page 303, of the Royal Commission's Report? I believe that this matter was dealt with to a certain extent by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keith, yesterday, and I have no wish to reiterate what he said. The point I wish to make is, I believe, pertinent to this question of deterrence. As the noble and learned Lord explained, criminal law is more lenient to the criminal in Scotland than in England, because diminished responsibility can reduce a charge of murder to one of culpable homicide. Why, then, in a country where it is easier to escape the hangman, are there fewer murders per million of the population than there are in England? Still more significant is the fact that in Scotland during the twenty years, 1929 to 1950, when there was the greatest number of reprieves—that includes the sixteen years, 1928 to 1944, when there were no hangings at all in Scotland—there were far fewer murders than in the previous ten years. So I think that in Scotland the story is this: the more reprieves the fewer the murders. Surely there is no pointer there to show that hanging is a deterrent to murder. Rather I think it means that violence breeds violence and cruel punishment tends to produce cruelty in the people.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but may not the question of which he speaks have something to do with the fact that there are fewer large cities in Scotland—fewer large centres of population?


I do not see what that has to do with it. What I am speaking of is the ratio: so many murders known to the police per million of the population. These figures impress me very much. Another fact which has impressed me is that three ex-Home Secretaries and the Chairman of the Royal Commission, whatever their views were before, have now become ardent abolitionists. They are men who were closely in contact with all this ugly business of criminals and the death penalty. To me the issue is clear. I see capital punishment, which allows no reform and no redemption for the criminal, as being quite futile, and merely a philosophy of vengeance and despair. I see hanging as an ignoble and primitive survival of the Middle Ages, and if we in the 20th century can find no other means of checking crime in this country than by liquidating the criminal, if we can show the world no higher example than this, then I do not think we can hold up our heads and call ourselves a great, enlightened and civilised nation which leads the world in progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, seems to think that abolitionists have no pity for the victims. Of course we pity the victims. But we know also to what extent heredity, upbringing and environment are responsible for the majority of crimes. Nearly all criminals are, in some form or another, abnormal. In any case, what right has any man to send another human being to eternity? It is not the judge, it is not the jury, it is not the Home Secretary who is responsible for this; it is you and I who have to make this decision. It has been said again and again that this is no time to make an alteration in the law. It has been said in this House. It has been said by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, and I think also by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. It has been said time and time again for a hundred years and more, ever since men and women sought to make some reform in the penal law, ever since little children seven, eight or nine years of age were hanged for pilfering a few shillings with which to buy a little bread to keep themselves alive. Every time any reform such as this has been brought before Parliament, it has been opposed, and every time it has been passed the Jeremiahs have been proved to be wrong.

When will be the time for altering the law? The lawyers seem to have it both ways. When crime increases they say: "It is too dangerous to make such an experiment." When crime decreases they say: "Look how well hanging is acting as a deterrent to murder. Let us keep things as they are." I intend to vote for this Bill. If hanging is a degrading death for the criminal, how infinitely much more it degrades the country which practises it and allows it to continue.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, it is unfortunate that the shortness of time at one's disposal prevents one from alluding to many of the important and interesting speeches we have heard. To-day almost my only allusion will be to the excellent speech made yesterday by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, who, in a few words, expressed my own opinions on this Bill in a way that I shall find it hard to imitate. With your Lordships' permission, I will quote a very few sentences from the noble and learned Viscount's speech. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 198 col. 581]: What is the position to be if capital punishment is abolished? A man going out to commit robbery, or it may be a burglary, perhaps with a long criminal record behind him, will know that if he is caught he is likely to be sentenced to from ten to fourteen years' preventive detention. If he arms himself and kills someone he will run the risk of a rather longer term of imprisonment. He cannot tell how much longer; I cannot tell how much longer. … Let us say that it would be a few years longer. Is this difference in sentence, if he arms himself and commits a murder and is caught and convicted, a sufficient deterrent to prevent him from taking a revolver with him? I would not take one syllable from that quotation; I would add to it. It is not merely a question of a revolver; it is not merely a question of a man who is determined to resist arrest. There are many men who may commit a crime and suddenly find themselves confronted with the virtual certainty of being captured if they do not kill the person who has come upon them. In some cases such a person will recognise and know the murderer, and in such cases the murderer has only one way of escaping being brought to justice. I submit that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack is perfectly correct: in all too many instances there will be a strong temptation for the wrongdoer to risk a few years' extra imprisonment when there is, on the other side, the chance of complete escape.

And this does not apply, of course, only to crimes of violence connected with robbery of various sorts. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has referred to attacks upon women and young girls. It is true that, on occasion, a man who has made a criminal assault upon a girl, when he comes to his senses kills her. More often, he does not. I submit that there is only too grave reason to believe that murder following rape is likely to become more prevalent if this Bill becomes an Act. It is well known that such sexual crimes are, of all crimes, about the most difficult to detect, because there is so often no evidence pointing to the person who has committed them. His character is often apparently a good one and there is no reason to suspect him.

What of the police? It is no answer to say that we should arm more of our police. It has been our pride throughout the ages that we have the finest police force in the world and that they are seldom armed with anything more lethal than truncheons—if that. If this Bill goes through, our police will have to be armed. At the same time that will not greatly lessen the risk which they will run, because almost always the criminal will put in the first shot. It is inconceivable that, in any ordinary circumstances, it will be the policeman who fires first. The criminal will shoot first, and if his aim is accurate there will be no return shot from the police. Our police forces to-day are carrying out their arduous duties with too few personnel, and this is not going to make their task easier. It will make their very existence when on duty much more perilous.

I listened with great sympathy to the speech of the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, and were he or the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, in a position to make sure that reasonable Amendments made in your Lordships' House would be accepted when they returned to another place, I should be tempted to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. But have we any reason to suppose that such would be the case? Every attempt to compromise in another place was turned down. Even the small Amendment that was made on the Committee stage, that the death penalty should remain for convicted murderers who killed a warder, was rejected upon Report. For that reason I cannot feel sufficiently sanguine that any of the Amendments your Lordships might make will be accepted to permit of my following the advice of the most reverend Primate.

I agree with most of what he said, and I think that there are few in your Lordships' House who would not welcome a substantial modification in the present position. I would make this suggestion: that, as I hope and believe will be the case, should a Second Reading be refused to this Bill, then Her Majesty's Government should make an approach to those who have sponsored the Bill here and in another place and endeavour to get them in a more reasonable frame of mind, so that in a subsequent Session an agreed Bill can be introduced to which a great majority of your Lordships will be able to give their approval If this Bill goes through, Parliament as a whole will certainly be flouting the will of the people. If your Lordships reject this Bill, you will certainly be acting more in accordance with the will of the people than another place has done. The Bill has been pushed through, "steam-rollered" through, by very narrow majorities, and a Bill making an immense constitutional change—as this one certainly does—ought not to be inflicted on the country when the voting was almost level in another place and when the country is certainly not less than six to four against. It is for those reasons that I cannot support this Bill, however well-intentioned it may be. It is in effect the "Murderers' charter", and as such has nothing to commend it to your Lordships.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to have an opportunity of adding to the size of the Scottish patch in the debate. I would begin by referring to what fell from the lips of the noble Lord, Lord Layton, towards the end of his speech, when he talked about the possibility of a clash between the two Houses of Parliament. I am jealous of the honour of your Lordships' House, though I say it as a very young Member, and I think that it would be more in keeping with the dignity of this House to give this Bill a Second Reading and deal with it in a sensible way, rather than reject it and find that, later on, the working of the Parliament Act would compel our acceptance of a measure of this kind. Progress will continue, however much people may stand in its way, and there is no likelihood of the position which we have reached vis-à-vis the death penalty receding. I believe that your Lordships would be wise to give a Second Reading to the Bill to-day and allow it to be dealt with in a proper manner.

I feel proud at having the opportunity of taking part in such an eventful debate in your Lordships' House. I have a simple faith, and I have been moved to feel pleased that I am not a theologian and that simple faith will serve me well, even if I am not able to reason things as they have been reasoned by theologians. I was pleased that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack brought us yesterday up against the issue of whether capital punishment was to be abolished or retained. Although I consider his speech unprogressive, it was made with great force, and had I been undecided I might have been persuaded by it.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, in the concluding speech yesterday evening, put up a powerful case, from his point of view, of what might happen in the Commonwealth countries if we passed this Bill. But I do not accept his assumptions. What he thought would result is by no means inevitable or certain. I think that the other countries of the Commonwealth will take their own line,—as they are entitled to do—about whether they will follow our lead or not. I would answer his contention by asking: what is to happen here at home if this Bill is rejected after many months of the suspension of the death penalty? Do we immediately revert to hanging? That is a question which the Government spokesman must answer before the end of this debate. I was glad that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keith of Avonholm, made reference to the Scottish doctrine of diminished responsibility. That is now firmly established in practice in Scotland. Apart from anything else, I think it would be worth while to give this Bill a Second Reading in order to legislate for the southern part of the island, if legislation be needed, to bring Scottish practice into wider use.

One point which the opponents of the Bill have sought to make against us who support it is that we are more concerned about the murderer than we are about his victim. That is an entirely wrong assumption. We agree that it is wrong to take human life, and assert that it is no service to the sorrowing relatives of a murdered person to take another life in retribution. That savours of vengeance, which is not for us to inflict, and I question its value as a deterrent. I was glad indeed that the most reverend Primate reminded us of the words: Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. If we pass this Bill, it will still be necessary for us to protect the citizens of this country by taking steps to prevent a homicidal maniac from further opportunity to kill by whatever period of detention is necessary—it might even be to the end of his life. That is a heavy task for prison officers, but I am convinced that it is less repulsive than inflicting the death penalty, which is one of their duties while hanging is retained.

To me the question put forward by this Bill is one of principle, upon which there is not possibility of compromise. Presented with an opportunity of voting, which I look upon as an obligation, I declare my total opposition to the imposition of the death penalty. As a matter of conscientious belief I find myself with no alternative. Having accepted the free gift purchased for me on Calvary, I wish every one of my fellow sinners to have the same opportunity, and feel that I must not take the risk of causing that opportunity to be lost by assenting to the cutting short of an unredeemed life. God alone can give life; he alone should have the responsibility of taking that life away. As I see it, man cannot command the gift of life, and he should not arrogate to himself the function of God by taking it away.

I am ready to pay tribute to the extreme care taken by judges and juries and by the police under the present arrangements in murder trials. But in seeking to arrive at a fair verdict in accordance with human law, they are almost entirely limited in their considerations to the tragic result with which they are dealing. They have not complete knowledge in order properly to assess the crime and its causes; there are probably psychological reasons in the background of which they are quite unaware. I propose to read to your Lordships words that express my feeling much better than I could hope to do, from one whom I describe as a great Scottish philospher, Robert Burns. He wrote: Who made the heart, tis He alone Decidedly can try us; He knows each chord, its various tone, Each spring, its various bias. Then at the balance let's be mute, We never can adjust it. What's done we partly may compute, But know not what's resisted. With such thoughts in my mind, I am anxious to see that some approach is made along the line of getting rid of the barbarity of the death sentence. Passing this Bill into law would be a step in that direction, and we might then hope to go forward to the point of obeying the Sixth Commandment. That may seem a long way ahead. It would involve the abolition of war and all its trappings. But that should hold no terrors for us. To reach that desirable goal we must travel. Let us do so in faith and hope, making this Bill another stepping stone on the road of progress.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened to the many speeches which have been made both yesterday and to-day and they have certainly strengthened my determination to vote against this Bill. Before the debate began, I must admit that I was rather impressed by one or two arguments in favour of abolition which seemed to me to be cogent. I should like to tell your Lordships in a few sentences what those arguments are, and why I now feel that they have little substance. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, and the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, have taken us back 100 to 150 years when the crime of stealing any object valued up to 5s. was punishable by death, and they have assumed that, because the Judiciary at that time were against any relaxation of the death penalty, and have since been proved to be wrong, those arguments are applicable to-day. To my mind, that is a fallacy.

Perhaps I might, without irreverence, use a proverb to illustrate this fact. At that time was coined in our language a proverb that: You might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. That has lasted throughout the ages. What is the position with regard to that proverb to-day? A man can be hanged only for "a sheep," and therefore he has the temptation to save his neck by committing only the lesser crime. But if this Bill is passed, surely that proverb will return with as great force as it ever had, except that the words may be: You might as well go inside for a sheep as a lamb. I think that refutes that argument. Many speakers have quoted the statistics given by the Royal Commission, and I think it has been generally accepted that they are inconclusive. However, there was one statistic quoted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Oaksey, yesterday which is incontrovertible—namely, that at present this country has the lowest homicide rate in the world.

With regard to deterrents, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Oaksey, used words which impressed me: "Fear of death by disgrace." I think those words are a tremendous deterrent. I was particularly glad to hear the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, tell us that he was in favour of some amendment of the law of murder; and, with the greatest respect, I felt that the arguments put forward by the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, were in favour of some amendment of the law of murder and not arguments in regard to the Bill now before the House. I now only want to quote words that have already been quoted, which were used by the late Lord du Parcq If, in the future, one innocent man is murdered as the result of the removal of the deterrent of the death penalty, this House will have a heavy responsibility to bear. For those reasons, I propose to vote against this Bill.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, after listening with, I hope, as little intermission as possible to the marathon debate that has taken place in your Lordships' House yesterday and to-day, it seems to me that your Lordships' judgment on this Bill, when the time comes for it, as it shortly will, will be decided on the relative importance you attach to three different sources of information. If your Lordships decide that the view of Her Majesty's Government, as expressed on the first day by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and no doubt later on by the noble Marquess who leads the House, and the views of Her Majesty's Judges, as expressed yesterday by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Oaksey, and this afternoon by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, are more important in their bearing on this issue than the evidence and the conclusions of the Royal Commission, then undoubtedly you will be against the Second Reading of this Bill. If, on the other hand, your Lordships regard the evidence submitted to the Royal Commission, and the conclusions they came to, as being more significant than the views of Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Judges, then I think there is little doubt that you will be in favour of giving the Bill a Second Reading.

I, for my part, have no hesitation in backing the Royal Commission. Their four years of intensive study of this problem of capital punishment was, to my mind, far more comprehensive and thorough than the personal experience of any individual connected with the administration of justice in this country, however long and however varied that experience could possibly be. I am convinced that anyone who studies the Report of the Commission with an open mind—and, of course, it is always difficult to have an open mind—will arrive at the same conclusion as that of the Chairman, Sir Ernest Gowers. This conclusion about capital punishment will have been reached by dispassionate consideration of all the facts given in the testimony, and not from any a priori or sentimental belief in the iniquity of the death penalty. Noble Lords, of course, are perfectly entitled to entertain such a belief, and we all respect those who do. But I do not think that beliefs of that kind are entertained by the average Member of your Lordships' House. Therefore, I think judgment will be swayed by other considerations.

It is hardly necessary for me to remind the House that the views of Her Majesty's Government are based largely on the advice of the Home Office, and the Home Office, in turn, base their advice largely on the opinions of the police and the prison service. I have only one comment, because many comments have already been made, on the views expressed by Her Majesty's Judges; that is, that it was of the greatest interest and encouragement for me to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keith of Avon-holm, say yesterday that, in his view, on a matter of this kind—a matter of penal reform—the opinion of a learned judge was of no more value than that of any lay Member of your Lordships' House.

Of course, the Royal Commission took fully into account the views of the police, the views of the prison service, and the views of Her Majesty's Judges, several of whom gave evidence before the Commission and recorded their conviction that the removal of the death penalty for murder would result in an increase in the number of murders committed. But the Commission's own conclusion, on all the available evidence—which included this, among other items of evidence—directly contradicted that of all these persons engaged in the administration of justice. The Commission took the view, after studying the relevant figures, that if the death penalty were removed or reintroduced its removal would not lead to an increase, and its reintroduction to a decrease, in the number of murders committed; so that the murder rate was not affected by the presence or absence of the death penalty. The view, therefore, that death is the greatest of all deterrents—even, in the commonly used phrase, "the unique deterrent"—is therefore a dogma, held no doubt most sincerely by its proponents, but flatly contradicted by the facts of experience. If, therefore, capital punishment is not the unique deterrent and can be replaced as a deterrent by other forms of punishment, such as a life sentence, then surely there can be no justification for continuing what I think we all regard as being a barbaric and undesirable practice, the practice of hanging.

The argument has been advanced that there is no satisfactory alternative punishment. A very long spell of prison will lead, it is maintained, to a depreciation in the personality of the prisoner, who will become unfit for ordinary society. But those European countries that have abolished the death penalty have found no difficulty about the alternative. The two factors that enable a prisoner not only to survive a long term of imprisonment, but, in many cases, to become later a useful and honest citizen, are the length of the sentence and the conditions under which he serves his sentence. A sentence of life imprisonment, as your Lordships have on several occasions been reminded, is not, in practice, confinement for more than a period of eight, or perhaps twelve, years' imprisonment. This is not so long a time that a person serving a life sentence becomes incapable of adapting himself afterwards to normal life. I think that, clearly, such a period of imprisonment is the minimum that could be imposed on anyone who had committed the horrible crime of murder. Moreover, the improvements in our prison system that have taken place in the last twenty years, with their emphasis on remedial treatment, make it possible nowadays for prisoners to develop habits of industry, and, indeed, responsibility, that will serve them later on in the outside world.

There are, of course, the murderers who are mentally abnormal but not certifiable, who must obviously be detained so long as their abnormality is a danger to the public. For these cases, the Royal Commission recommended treatment in a special institution, presumably something between a mental hospital and a prison. I believe that this advice has been accepted by Her Majesty's Government, and that it is the intention that such an institution should be built. I hope, as several noble Lords, and I think at least one right reverend Prelate, have said in the course of the debate, that reasons of economy will not prevent the erection of this most desirable new institution for the treatment of criminals.

Therefore, the alternative to the death penalty is really quite simple—for the mentally normal, life imprisonment, tempered by the usual liberation after a term of years; for psychopaths, detention in an institution until their abnormality is cured, or, indeed, for life—because clearly they cannot be released; they are a menace to society, and they cannot be released if no cure is effected.


Will the noble Earl allow me to interrupt him? The fact is that that institution is not there, but that this Bill, if passed, will be on the Statute Book in two or three weeks. What is the procedure for correlating the cause with the effect?


I do not profess to be an expert, but I am told by those who have studied these penal matters that it might be possible, for the time being, until a proper institution is built and started, to use a wing of Broad-moor for these persons.


It might be.


I have wearied your Lordships with views which I hope will be accepted because they are sincerely held, even if they have been repetitive. I should like now to make one comment which I think has not been made before. As I have had some little experience of colonial administration, perhaps I may be permitted to answer several noble Lords who, both to-day and yesterday, expressed alarm about the influence of abolition in this country upon the Colonies. I think there has been a good deal of misapprehension about this. Some noble Lords seemed to imagine, and possibly still imagine, that abolition here would inevitably result in abolition in our overseas territories. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will remember that he asked the House to consider the effect of abolition on Cyprus, Malaya, and Kenya. I believe the answer is quite simple. Most of the Colonies already have their own Legislatures, and the laws they make are quite different from ours. We do not interfere in their domestic affairs, otherwise they would not be able to learn how to govern themselves; and it is a principle of our colonial policy which is shared by all Parties that the Colonies are being encouraged on the road to self-government.

To give your Lordships a simple example, the Colonies do not have income tax at 8s. 6d. in the £ merely because that is the law in this country. Indeed, I cannot think at the moment of any Colony that pays income tax at this rate. What, in fact, would happen if the death penalty were removed in this country? What would happen in the Colonies is, surely, that they would retain, or not retain, the death penalty, in the light of their own local conditions and requirements. Of course Cyprus is a special case. She does not have a Legislature, but so far as she is concerned I should be surprised if the noble and learned Viscount disagreed with my view. I have no doubt that the Governor, with the full authority of Her Majesty's Government, will continue to impose the death penalty in respect of all the offences for which it is at present imposed, so long as he feels that it is needed for the restoration of law and order.

My Lords, I should like, in conclusion, to make one rather general observation. There are only three countries left in Western Europe—which, after all, is still the main repository of Christian civilisation—the United Kingdom, France and Spain, that still retain the death penalty for murder. I have always taken the view, which I think may be shared by many other noble Lords, that the British character is more Scandinavian than Latin; and I think this holds good in spite of our predominantly urban way of life. I cannot believe that we are, on the whole, less self-disciplined or more prone to violence than our Scandinavian neighbours, and I venture to think that this may be just as forcible an explanation of the low murder rate, to which frequent reference has been made, in the United Kingdom as the explanation that it is accounted for by the existence of the death penalty.

Of course, the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor took the view that this low rate was due to the deterrent effect of the death penalty. Here, however—though, of course, he may well be right—he differs from the Royal Commission. The Report of the Royal Commission, commenting on the figures for the United Kingdom, expressly pointed out—and here I should like to quote their words that this does not prove that capital punishment has a deterrent effect. If, as I think, there is no valid reason to suppose that the British character is such that the removal of the death penalty will release its pent-up violence, let us join the most civilised countries in Europe at the present time by putting an end to a practice that has not been justified by experience and is certainly not approved by conscience.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, I think it would be fair to say (though I have only fourteen years' experience of this House) never have I known a more illuminating or more cordial, and, if I may say so, more fraternal discussion. I have been very much afraid particularly of the Bishops, for a very long time; but after the speeches that have been made in this free debate and the hard hitting and the absence of the rather oily complimentation which is a scum on the debates in ordinary meetings, I feel that this is really a House of Parliament, and it is to a House of Parliament that I propose to address my remarks.

Now, my Lords, if you listen to the debate it really comes down to this despite all the learned speeches that have been made. The most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York put his finger on the spot when he said, "It is a hunch". You do not like murder; you hate a man who kills somebody, and you want to get after him and give him as good as he gave. That is really the hard core of the case against this Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, was here for a short time and he repeated, with trimmings, what we have heard before—how horrible murders are, and what a lot of experience he has of their repulsive details. We know all that. We all agree about that. What we want to know is: how we are going to stop it? The noble and learned Lord made no suggestion whatever in that direction.

There was added a patriotic touch to this matter in some of the speeches from the Back Benches which I thoroughly enjoyed. One of the noble Lords said, "Live the British way of life. After all, Tyburn tree and Jack Ketch are part of our tradition. Remember this: it may be true that we were hanging little girls and little boys in 1810 and 1811, but we were beating Napoleon at the same time. They were the great days of the Empire. Do stick to the flag and to Tyburn Tree. After all, as the debate is between Billing-ton and Freud, can you hesitate? Billington was born and bred a Britisher; Freud was a foreigner—and not only a foreigner but a neutral foreigner. The answer, surely, in a choice of that kind is obvious". That is the impression that I get of the broad line of debate.

There are one or two points that I want to mention before I come to the only reason for which I intervene, and that is the constitutional position in which we find ourselves. The first is what I consider a most sinister element in the debate, and that was the suggestion that we should lower our moral standards to the moral standards that are imposed in the Colonies. That, I think, is perfectly dreadful. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, dealt, with all his knowledge, with the legal aspect of the matter. Of course, people have the right to do this and that; but the argument was, "If you stop hanging whites, it will be more difficult for us to go on hanging blacks"; and, putting that in the broadest possible way, it is a sinister and a dreadful argument. I will not go into reasons, which certainly would be controversial, but in no Colony has "the rope" been more industriously applied than in Kenya. If you are going to say that you must not abolish capital punishment here because of the effect in Kenya and Cyprus, then you are getting on very difficult ground which deserves debate and certainly has divided opinion.

Now, as to the general look of the thing (because I shall not be very long), there are several points that I noticed as a lay observer. One is that Scotland has cone splendidly out of this debate. I listened to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keith of Avonholm—because I have "written off" the judges completely—with immense pleasure. When I found it supported by the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, and by my noble friend Lord Mathers, I felt very proud that I had twice represented a Scottish constituency in the House of Parliament. The second point I would mention concerns the Bishops. The last time we asked Lord Goddard what he thought of Ellen-borough, he never said that Ellenborough was a brute—which he was. He never said that he lived in an age of brutality—which he did. What the noble and learned Lord said was, "Well, after all, Ellenborough erred, if he erred, in good company. All the Bishops voted for him." That cannot be said any longer. The thing that has signified the victory of this Bill is the support of the Bishops.

There is only one thing I would add. I am not a member of the Church of England, I am a Congregationalist; but I do regret the attack on Christian Action. If it had not been for Christian Action and people of the like kind, it is doubtful whether we should ever have had a debate of this quality, and I doubt whether we should have had the unanimity between the Bishops that we find to-day.


The noble Lord was really quoting from the right reverend Prelate the Lore Bishop of Chichester, who said that all the Bishops were unanimous on this subject. He had no authority to say that whatsoever.


Does the right reverend Prelate mean that?


That is as it seems to me. Nobody seems to have changed his mind on this subject. I have heard nothing from the Bishops or anyone else in this House that makes me change my mind.


I apologise; I was going too far. I was expressing the great choice that was made with the authentic voice, as I understood; but it is not for me to judge. The right reverend Prelate, of course, is quite right to assert his opinion; it is the great privilege of any Member of this House to do so. I apologise, and I except him from anything I said about the Bishops' Bench. But I do say that if your Lordships are able to say that the two or three Bishops and the two Archbishops who supported this Bill are right, then our case is won.

The third thing I want to say is that I think the judges have come out of the debate very badly. Indeed, I am waiting to hear what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Tucker—


May I put in another protest, rather on the lines of that of the right reverend Prelate? The noble Viscount has heard only two judges. I have endeavoured to shorten the debate by not speaking, and perhaps I might intervene to say that I find myself in complete agreement with the right reverend Prelate.


I am most obliged to the noble Lord. It is better than ever. We are getting more and more allies every moment, and his authority to the Bill, I think, is a glorious victory to the abolitionists.


May I say that if the noble Viscount goes on talking much longer I shall vote the other way.


My Lords, I have never had a moment of glory like this in my life, that what I say should influence the vote of the Metropolitan. May it ever be so! I thank him for the compliment. But, broadly speaking, the argument I am advancing, which is a serious argument dealing with the drift of opinion and the solidification of opinion in different quarters, I think really corresponds with the facts, with the exceptions that have been stated. A point I want to put to your Lordships in connection with the free vote is this. There has been some attempt to pretend that a free vote in another place has not the authority of a Government vote. I want to examine that, because I was in another place for a very long time and many House of Commons friends are here to-day. What do we say on this issue? Do Members of the House of Lords who have never been in another place know what the control of the Whips is like? Here it is light, but there, even when I entered the House in 1906, the control of the Whips was serious. When Members became paid, it became far more serious, and when the membership of another place became a profession, and an honoured profession, it became vital. If a man opposes the Whips in another place, he runs the gamut; he is "sunk", he is out, he is economically ruined. Do your Lordships think that that is a power that we should support by saying it is the only thing we recognise?

Surely your Lordships remember the famous passage in Burke's address to the burgesses of Bristol, in which he said: "I am sent there to do my duty. I am no delegate". Surely if we believe in the glory of Parliament, we ought to support the man who has the courage to stand up for what he believes to be true, even though the majority of his Party may not be with him. I do not want to use our famous phrase "pay tribute", but I should like to express my heartfelt admiration of that lady—I do not know her name—


Mrs. Emmet.


—who went and faced a hostile Conservative conference. Fifty-four Conservatives said, "This is a matter of conscience and we will support it." That is why we find this Bill here to-day, and those who profess to believe in Parliamentary democracy should accept it. That is the vital point. If you say that the machinery provided by an Act of Parliament for making the will of another place prevail cannot prevail when you are acting on conscience, then you are dealing a serious blow to the vitality of Parliamentary institutions. Finally, I would refer to a point that was touched upon in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. I believe he is—I may be wrong; I have been wrong two or three times in this debate—the Chairman of the Independent Peers.



He speaks for the Independent Peers: is that right?



It is so extremely difficult to know what to do or say. I understand he is an independent man. Is that right?



He got up and said: "Here am I, an independent man"—I fear he is not—"Tell me what to do." That was the gist of his speech. He said "I do not know what to do, being independent, until the noble Marquess has told me what to do." That is a very sad case. I hope the noble Marquess will do something to put him out of his loyal pains.


He said he would be glad of my advice. I am always delighted to give my advice to anybody, even to the noble Viscount opposite.


The sunshine of cordiality seems to be spreading to every quarter of the House. I hope it will lead to some good results, though I am not so certain that it will. The real point is that, when another place in 1948 passes the Bill and in 1956 passes the Bill two or three times with decisive votes, are we to say that because it is a Private Member's Bill we will not take it? It is a very important constitutional point. If you say "The Parliament Act does not apply to Bills that are passed without the Whips", then you are constructing a form of steel-hound Government control which is not compatible with a free Parliament. That being so, you will have to vote.

Now we come to the next point. Most people in this House and very many in the country—I do not agree with them—think that on this basis something should be done. The most reverend Primate said so too. I was afraid—and that was the only reason I ventured to intervene in the debate—that the doctrine was going to be given that the Lord Chancellor or the Leader of the House in some way could tell us whether it was constitutionally possible to amend this Bill in this House. Neither of them has any such power. In another place the matter would be decided by the Chair. In the House of Lords the matter is decided by the House, and there is no other authority. It would be very dangerous indeed if we were to let pass without protest the contention that in the Front Bench or even on the Woolsack there resides this authority. I believe that within the limits of this Bill you could make Amendments. I would not support them, but I believe it could be done. The Title of the Bill would have to be changed, but it was twice changed, I am informed, in its passage through another place. If your Lordships want to do these wonderful things which everyone has suddenly thought of and then gone away, it is possible to do them in this House.

What is the alternative? The alternative is that we should "ride our high horse", stand up straight and say, "This is the House of Lords; and we will vote as our consciences direct," and "chuck it out". What happens then? In a few months' time it is again washed up on the shore, and it is washed up again in the same form, ipsissima verba, as it left your Lordships amidst universal contempt. What will you do then? You will have to swallow it and you will then be in the ridiculous position of having said, "We have a great vision of law reform but we will do nothing about it. We will not produce anything; we will not suggest anything; we will only kill the one thing that has been suggested. Having killed it, we shall then find that under the Parliament Act we have to pass it". That is the situation that faces us to-day. It was to draw attention to that that I rose to my feet. I wished to point out to those of your Lordships who may not be abolitionists—I am an abolitionist and of course I shall vote for the Bill—what are the inevitable constitutional consequences of rejection of this Bill this afternoon.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, in this brilliant debate I have great pleasure in being able to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. If I may say so without offence, he shows that he has lost none of the wit, vigour and mischievousness which we used to know well in another place. I am going to be very brief, but there are two points I should like to put before the House which have influenced me more than any others in making up my mind on this measure. The general opinion in the House seems to be that we should vote as our consciences dictate. The view which is advanced in some Sunday papers, and appears to have been advanced by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, was that from a constitutional point of view we should not oppose the opinions of another place. I regard that as a most unworthy argument. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said, there is no public mandate for the abolition of the death penalty and no Party put it forward in their Election manifesto.

I have heard no claim that the majority of the public support it. On the contrary, many speakers in another place have admitted that they were supporting abolition contrary to the wishes of their constituents. Apparently, if you act according to the wishes of your constituents you are acting democratically, but if you act contrary to their wishes you are acting most democratically and courageously. But such close study as I have been able to give to this question of public opinion appears to show beyond doubt that between 60 and 90 per cent. of the people of this country—that is, according to all the polls, official and unofficial, and all the inquiries made, by newspapers and others—are against the abolition of the death penalty. I believe, and have always been brought up to believe, that in matters such as this the general consensus of opinion in this wise old country of ours is usually right.

I should like just to refer to New Zealand. As the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, said yesterday, between 1935 and 1950 the death penalty was abolished in New Zealand. It was restored in 1950. During the fifteen years in which it was not in force the average number of murders was nine. The noble Earl went on to say that since it was restored in 1950 the average has been three. But what is interesting, apart from that, is, I think, that the New Zealanders have now decided that at the next Election, at the same time as the citizens go in to register their vote, they will hold a poll or referendum on this specific subject, so that a decision may be come to. I think that is a point well worth consideration.

I must admit that my sympathies in this matter are all with those who may be murdered, and with their relatives and dependants, rather than with those who commit the murders. But in my judgment the crux of the matter is this—and it seems to me to be a simple one. Surely it is our duty as legislators so to order the affairs of the country that the people entrusted to our care are protected to every possible extent from murderous attack. I believe that that is our first duty. If, by our action, we do anything which may make the murder of innocent citizens more probable, we are failing in our duty. The question then is this: is the removal of the deterrent of the death penalty likely to do this? Surely that is the main question that we have to ask ourselves.

To the best of my ability I have endeavoured to study the Report of the Royal Commission, the examples from abroad, the figures given, and the great mass of literature which has been sent to all in your Lordships' House before this debate. I have honestly tried to bring myself to believe that the abolitionists' claim is true, and that the death penalty is no deterrent. But, in all honesty, such reason as I could bring to bear compels me to the belief—indeed, I would say the certainty—that the ultimate possibility of the death penalty must act as a unique deterrent. The knowledge that there is a skilled police force to detect the murderer, and then the possibility of the death penalty, surely must be deterrence in a unique degree—deterrence such as no other punishment can bring forward. I am fortified, of course, by the advice which successive Home Secretaries have given while holding the responsibility of their office, the advice of that most weighty speech of the Lord Chancellor, and what I thought was a most admirable speech, with every word of which I agreed, from the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. I, too, should like to quote what Lord Clitheroe quoted yesterday, the words of Lord Wright on this matter in the debate in 1948. He said: The sudden ending of human life by the process of law is the most terrifying thing that can be devised. In face of this, I cannot bring myself to believe other than that the death penalty is the ultimate deterrent, and is therefore more likely than any other to protect our citizens against murderous attack.

My Lords, over the week-end a rather remarkable think has happened. The right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Exeter, referred yesterday to other heinous crimes, such as the selling of drugs to young persons. I have a quotation from last week-end's issue of that admirable American factual paper, Time, and I have no doubt that your Lordships heard on the radio this morning that the Congress of the United States have unanimously sent forward to the President for his approval an amendment to the criminal law which, in the words of Time will permit juries to direct a death sentence for dopesters"— or those who sell dope— convicted of selling heroin to minors under the age of eighteen. In America this is regarded as a most serious social evil, and the American Congress are unanimous in bringing forward an extension of the death penalty. Why? Surely it is because they believe that that is the only deterrent which can deal with this evil, in which ordinary prison sentences have failed in action. That this should have happened over the week-end is, I think, a most remarkable coincidence.

I should much like to see the present law in regard to murder amended on the lines suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, but unless we can persuade ourselves that no one is deterred from murder by the fear of hanging, surely we must keep available for use the ultimate weapon to protect the lives of those entrusted to us. Remembering this, and also remembering that at present we have the lowest homicidal rate in the world, and believing, as I have said, that the death penalty is and must be the unique deterrent, I feel that for the protection of the people I must vote against this Bill.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, has spoken to us with deep feeling, and I have no doubt that he found it difficult to reach the conclusion that he has just described to us. I need hardly say—I know this applies to everybody on this side—that we respect the conscience of those who disagree with us, just as we know that our own conscience is respected in this matter. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, that this is a matter of conscience. I am not concerned with what the Press say is the duty of the House of Lords; I think we are all capable of forming our own opinion. The Government, I think, most properly and, it may be said, generously, made it plain yesterday that they are not going to call on any noble Lord to support their attitude for reasons of Party loyalty.

It is a little difficult, I appreciate, for someone as highly respected as the noble Marquess to find that his advice is taken lightly: it would be asking too much of him. Obviously, if he indicates his own attitude many will be inclined to follow him. But this is a question of conscience, and I think the whole House treats it as such. I myself speak—though at half past five after a day and a half of debate I should not be forgiven if I spoke at length—as an active abolitionist. I am not going to argue the question of capital punishment in other countries at other times. I have been an active abolitionist in relation to our country in the immediate future. I have been associated with various campaigns for abolition, including the Christian Action campaign. While I greatly admire (it would take me too long to say how much I admire at this time) the speech of the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York, I regretted—perhaps, speaking as the patron of Christian Action I might be allowed to regret—his reference to Canon Collins. I personally, and I am sure others, are proud to be associated with that indomitable priest.

I have had some connection with this problem. We have all to state our credentials, and I do so briefly. I have been concerned in the last few years with a prolonged inquiry into the causes of crime, an inquiry that has led me into many prisons. I think the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, may be "one up" on me, but only one; and, apart from him, I have been inside more prisons in the last few years than any Member of the House. I have made a number of acquaintances and a few friends among the prison and ex-prison population. I know one young man, in my opinion unjustly convicted of murder, who is now serving a life sentence. Therefore when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Oaksey (his position in this country requires no flattery from me, and I hope he will not mind my speaking a little sharply) assumes, as he did yesterday, that those who are supporting abolition are those who are more remote from the criminal world than noble Lords like himself, I venture to think he is very much mistaken.

Be that as it may, I want to address these few remarks, in particular, to those noble Lords who have still not made up their minds. Obviously, noble Lords of vast experience—at least three ex-Home Secretaries, two judges, and indeed a third, because Lord Cohen has indicated his view—have given us their guidance and told us what their experience has brought them to believe. Great deference, no doubt, will be paid to their opinion, but I am thinking particularly of those noble Lords who are trying to weigh up this matter for themselves, who have never perhaps assumed, any more than Sir Ernest Gowers had assumed when he became Chairman of the Royal Commission, a definite line. May I be forgiven for trying to wrestle with their consciences.

It seems to me that noble Lords in that position are perplexed by three points in particular. I will not try to deal with the colonial question, which has been so well handled by my noble friend Lord Listowel, who knows much more about it than I do; and I will not deal with the constitutional aspects, which were brilliantly dealt with by my noble friend Lord Stansgate, and no doubt will be authoritatively dealt with at the end by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. But, taking just the merits of hanging as a punishment in this country, I think, as I say, that some noble Lords are still unsettled with regard to three points.

First of all, what is to happen to the prisoner if he is not executed? We have had a brief but very careful explanation of the point this morning by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, who speaks with vast authority about it; and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has explained it more fully this afternoon. I am not going to deal with the question in detail, but I do venture to say, with tremendous emphasis, that, with British prisons, as they are, or asylums as they are, or intermediate institutions in this country, I cannot believe there is anything in the argument that those who have the interests of a murderer at heart would rather see him hanged than enjoy a life imprisonment; whether by life imprisonment is meant five years, ten years or the whole life. I have seen stricken families facing the situation of execution and afterwards the prospect of life sentence. I cannot imagine, if any one of us found himself in that position, and had a child or someone he was fond of, or an employee, faced with that situation where there was a choice between destroying him, so far as this world is concerned, and giving him the chance of life imprisonment, that he would rather see that person, in his own interest, destroyed by hanging.

Let us come to the question of deterrence. One might think this matter had been gone over thoroughly enough, and yet I know there are noble Lords who are still uncertain how the balance lies. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, quoted passages from the Report of the Royal Commission, as he was fully entitled to do—and, heaven knows! if Lord Waverley has no right to speak on this subject, who has? The Lord Chancellor and other speakers also quoted passages. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, though he did not carry me with him (that is perhaps due to old political conflicts, which never interfere with personal friendship) said that it was accepted as a fact that the Report is inconclusive. There we reach an argument about words. I cannot, I am bound to say (and I hope Lord Oaksey will not mind my referring to him again for a moment) accept the contempt that appears to be thrown from some quarters on statisticians as such.

Lord Oaksey says that, on the one hand, we have the judges. But that is not altogether true: the judges seem very agreeably divided; so far the majority indicate approval of our view. We have on the one hand, he said, the judges, the legal profession and those engaged in the prison service; and against them those who rely on statistics—that is treated as something disreputable—and those who rely upon emotion and upon their political views. It rather reminds one of Burke's statement that the age of chivalry has gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. I cannot accept this antithesis with the same contempt falling on the second bracket. I am bound to say, in passing, that to claim that noble Lords who favour abolition, or the extensionists—and I think we have had at least one extensionist in this debate—do so mainly because of their political views, seems to be quite falsified by recent history. It was pointed out by a Conservative Member of Parliament, at the end of the debate in the other place, that what has made the difference between the majority in favour of hanging in the last Parliament and the majority against it in this is the large number of young Conservatives who have come in, who have studied the matter and have come down against hanging. I salute them. If there are any medals to be worn they should be worn by them. Certainly their political views cannot have helped them towards this conclusion, but in fact they have decided on the evidence against the continuance of hanging here.

Let us come back to the statistics. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said the undoubted fact is that statistics are inconclusive. My Lords, I, and others present, I think, have at different times conducted, and helped others to conduct, various social inquiries; and all noble Lords are agreed that at the end of an inquiry of that kind no columns of statistics are ever conclusive. 'There is never a mathematical proof, never a scientific proof. You can never verify a course of action recommended in advance. Therefore the proof will always lack coercive force. It will always be possible for an honest and intelligent man to say, "I do not accept the evidence". But if we take this collection of evidence here in the Report—not just the observations made by the members of the Commission in the introduction—and if we read right through the relevant Appendix, I cannot believe that anybody with an unbiased mind will feel that it is very inconclusive.

The facts point strongly in one way, and that points strongly to the conclusion that the abolition of capital punishment is not a material factor in increasing crime. It points still more clearly to the conclusion that abolition has not led the criminal classes to carry arms more than previously. The Royal Commission themselves say in paragraph 61: Moreover we received no evidence that the abolition of capital punishment in other countries had in fact led to the consequences apprehended by our witnesses in this country. Surely if they received no evidence, it was not for want to looking for it but because there was no evidence. That kind of evidence did not exist; and however much deference we pay to arguments however brilliantly presented, there is the fact, as most of us must agree, that in other countries none of these dire consequences have followed.

Then it may be said: "But what about Britain? Britain is different." If we are always going to say that Britain is different, then no inquiry can ever throw light on the course to be followed. We are told on the one hand that in Belgium the police are always armed so that there are no comparisons. Then we are told that Norway, where the police are not armed, is a sparsely populated country, so we cannot judge by the conduct of Norwegians. I can only say that the distinguished visitors from Scandinavian countries who have been here recently do not at all understand this argument about arming the police and capital punishment. They see no connection between the two things. One very learned man said he had been talking to Danish judges and asked about armed robbers. They laughed and said, "Oh, we had that argument years ago. It simply does not happen."That is the experience in other countries. Does the House not prefer experience to calculation and surmise, even by uplifted minds?

Finally we have Sir Ernest Gowers, who started as a mild retentionist and moved to a clear Abolitionist position. If anybody wants the bearing of the evidence which he collected stated succinctly they can find it in the last page or two of his book, where on page 137 he tells us: There remains the argument that without the uniquely deterrent value of capital punishment more murders would be committed. As we have seen, such evidence as there is goes to show that the abolition of capital punishment does not in fact have this result. That is the view of Sir Ernest Gowers, Chairman of the Royal Commission, who did four years' work on the subject and must know it better than anybody in this country or even in the world. For that and other reasons, during or as a result of his inquiries, he has moved from a retentionist to an abolitionist position.

My Lords, I approach my last point. I am aware that when I sit down there will be a number of noble Lords who, after hearing what I have said, will still hang back and wonder whether they can vote for the Bill or can honestly refrain from voting against it. I feel that at the back of the minds of many such noble Lords there is the problem of retribution. I am not criticising that. There is the thought that a man who commits a deliberate murder, perhaps a very disgusting murder, has earned the death penalty. We have had theological expositions on the theory of retribution which have interested us greatly. I could not help observing that the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury rejected retribution, while the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York accepted it.


My Lords, the noble Lord is perhaps misled by a slight difference in the use of words. Both my fellow Primate and myself were upholding punishment as condemnatory action by the State, to be meted out to persons who have deserved it. The most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury was repudiating vindictive punishment, and I, of course, heartily concur with him in that repudiation.


My Lords, I am much indebted to the most reverend Primate, and I am sure that the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury would have said the same thing, no doubt in slightly different terminology.


No, my Lords, in the same terminology.


My Lords, I was not trying to drive a wedge between their Lordships; no sabotage from a Roman quarter! I was in fact going on to try to offer much the same explanation of the apparent divergence now presented to us. I feel that this element of retribution cannot be rejected from punishment. It can be presented differently, and I am fully aware that, with the development of modern psychology in which I and so many others are deeply interested. Lord Stansgate is perhaps a little hard on your Lordships' attitude to Freud. I have no reason to think that everyone here is against Freud. I am sure many noble Lords are very much interested in the development of psychology which indicates the handicaps under which so many people labour from birth and throughout their lives, but I stand absolutely with those speakers who have insisted on the freedom of the will of the individual and who therefore insist that as long as a man is sane we in this life must assume that he commits an offence freely. None of us can judge as God can judge; but if we are to remain a civilised State at all we must establish some connection between punishment and guilt. I accept that. Here in the last resort each must surely speak for himself, and I am bound to say that when we try and fit that idea of retribution (I am not speaking now of deterrence: I hope I have already dealt with that aspect) to what is just treatment of the murderer I cannot adopt anything except the abolitionist position.

The idea of forgiveness is not unique to Christianity, but surely we are entitled to regard it as a distinct characteristic of our religion, and it seems to me that on this point we must each interpret the Gospel in our own way. I offer your Lordships only one quotation: If thy brother trespass against thee rebuke him and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying I repent, thou shalt forgive him. Can the most reverend Primates, can any of us, say that one can use that language without the grossest hypocrisy to a man one is sending to the gallows?


My Lords, that is a very serious question which I would answer equally seriously. I could.


I am grateful to the most reverend Primate. We can only offer our opinions; the most reverend Primate's opinion is far more important than mine, though I would say not more strongly held.

I am afraid that we abolitionists on this side of the House become irritated by only one charge: any suggestion that we pity the murderer and forget his victim. We believe that two wrongs do not make a right and that we can protect no one by hanging anyone at all in this country. We are therefore left with the problem of what is Christian justice towards the murderer. While this British society of ours may, in some ways, have slipped back in recent years, I hope that at least we have progressed in our readiness to recognise our common nature with all humanity, our concern for even the number who, by human standards, are most despised and abhorred. We are told that: …when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed. I believe that if we pass this Bill we in this House may be blessed far beyond our personal deserts. I implore noble Lords to give it a chance to go foward.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate. I did not ask for my name to be included in the list of speakers yesterday because I have no clear-cut conclusion to offer to your Lordships. I feel very fully the doubts and difficulties such as were described by the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. I cannot accept the advice of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to throw out this Bill on Second Reading with no alternative policy to suggest. I cannot, on the other hand, accept the plea of Lord Templewood, to pass it with a view to its becoming law as it stands. And I am more unfortunate than the Archbishop because, while he found a third alternative acceptable, and would like the Bill to go to Committee (which, indeed, was the advice of my noble friend Lord Rea) in order that it should be amended then and reconsidered in its amended form or Third Reading, I cannot, for reasons which I propose to state briefly to your Lordships, accept that plan either.

Therefore, being in the somewhat ignominious position of being compelled to abstain from voting—a position I detest: it has no glory; it is as a rule, a feeble position—I thought of preserving a somewhat ignominious silence. But several of my noble friends yesterday who felt very much the same doubts (and there may be many in this House even at this moment who are still not happy with any one of the three alternatives which are offered) pressed me to bring before your Lordships another and different solution of this problem which I presented to the Royal Commission when invited by them, as an ex-Home Secretary, to give evidence. It is the purpose of my speech to-day to do that.

I must first say why it is that I cannot accept any of the other three courses. I am convinced that the present law and practice of this country in the matter of capital punishment needs a very large alteration. There has undoubtedly been a swing of public opinion towards the abolitionists in recent months, and in your Lordships' House there has been a far greater measure of influential support for abolition than when we debated the subject in 1948. And I believe that that change in public opinion which has occurred recently is due largely to two, or perhaps three, cases—capital cases—where a reprieve was refused. I am not saying anything about the merits or otherwise of that refusal, but a reprieve was refused, and executions took place which were very unwelcome to an exceedingly large section of people in this country.

I think that this Bill, coming before your Lordships' House after protracted debate in the House of Commons, and representing undoubtedly the views of a very large section of our fellow citizens, ought not to he merely negatived without some other attempt being made to meet these feelings which I have just described and which may be quite legitimately held. Therefore, I cannot vote for the mere rejection of this Bill, subject, no doubt, to the possibility of legislation on some minor points such as those which were mentioned by the Lord Chief Justice. On the other hand, I have never been an abolitionist. I have always taken a view which is not that of the total abolitionist, who regards it as an absolute first principle of the moral law that we must never take the life of a fellow human being. That is what I regard as the fallacy of the pacifist and, sometimes, of the religious fundamentalist.

Having been in close touch with this subject most of my life (it is fifty years since I first went to the Home Office as Under-Secretary), I dc believe that capital punishment may be a deterrent, and a very effective one in the minds of those who belong to the class from which murderers often come, and also in the minds of those who belong to other classes—for this is not by any means a class question. I have studied the Report of the Royal Commission. I am not shaken in the view that is held by almost all those who are most closely in touch with this matter. The highly technical statistics which have been presented deal with numbers which are often so small, conditions that are so different, factors involved that are so many, that I do not think we can draw from them amt decisive conclusion. And, after all, with all its faults, our British law results in a much better showing and a much lower murder rate than in other countries. And I think that we should, on the whole, desire to rely upon our own experience, to handle our own conditions and our own problems.

I believe also that the element of retribution comes in, and I agree with the views that have been expressed from the Bishops' Bench: that retribution should play a part. When I consider criminals like Crippen, for example, or Haigh, who murdered one woman after another in order to obtain their property, and then disposed of their bodies in vats of acid; or when I think of the French criminal, Landru, or when I think of a man like the American who, a few months ago, insured his mother's life for a large sum and then planted a bomb in a suitcase in the aeroplane in which she was travelling,. with the result that not only she but all the crew and passengers were killed, I feel that it is not enough to allow such people after a term—certainly a long term—in prison (and prisons have been reformed and are to be reformed more, so as to make them more humane) to re-emerge among other people as ordinary citizens. And as for those bestial persons who kidnap little girls, and first outrage them and then strangle them, it is not enough to say that we should send them to prison in order that they may have an opportunity to reform and repent. For these reasons, I cannot rank myself as an abolitionist.

Crime is a hideous thing. It is treated far too lightly. I deplore the present tendency to treat crime as a joke, as a parlour game, and for "crime clubs" to plan elaborate murders, making a jest of murder. Advertisements appear in the Press: "If you want to read a really funny murder, read So-and-so." All that attitude of mind spoils and poisons the social atmosphere. Crime is a hideous thing. It is a dread disease of the body politic. Certainly let us try to educate it out, but if education fails, then the duty of any Government is to do what they can to stamp it out.

Then there is the question that has been raised by several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Milverton and Lord Tweedsmuir, of the British Colonial Empire. Those who are absolute abolitionists and regard it as an inviolable principle of moral law would not be able to agree that this Parliament, in so far as it is responsible for the fortunes of those territories, should refrain from applying the same rule of morality to the population in its charge that we apply to our own people. That would present very great difficulties. Others not holding the same strength of principle might be able to say that they would have to consult local opinion on the ground of self-determination and take their view, but it is difficult to see what the position of a Labour Government might be which abolished the death penalty on the principle of morality and applied it straight away to conditions at levels of civilisation so entirely different from our own.

Nor do I feel inclined to agree that this Bill should be passed because it has been passed by another place and if we do not pass it now it will be passed again under the Parliament Act. It happens that I am the only survivor in your Lordships' House of the Cabinet that passed the Parliament Act of 1911. At that time we strenuously defended our position and denied the accusation that was brought against us, that we were trying to establish a single-Chamber Constitution. We said: Not at all. We recognised that there should be a Second Chamber, and we provided adequate powers suited to the conditions for that Second Chamber. And this seems to me to be precisely the kind of case that was contemplated, when we passed that Act, as properly coming before your Lordships' House.

The Bill we are now discussing has gone through another place without being in any way authorised—and no one claims that it is authorised—by the mandate of the people. At the last General Election it was never heard of. Moreover, it was passed by a vote in another place, not on the responsibility of the Government of the day but by the votes of Members as individuals; and, as has already been mentioned in this debate, several of them have not only asserted but taken pride in the fact that they voted for the Bill although they knew that a majority of their own constituents were against it. That being so, surely it is the duty of the Second Chamber to give a further opportunity to the people to consider what their views should be.

The most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, said that he thought we ought to give this Bill a Second Reading and amend it in Committee; and then, if it was thrown out by another place, pass it again and stand by our Amendments. I am afraid that the most reverend Primate is not bearing in mind the terms of the Parliament Act. Our standing by it would have no effect whatsoever. If the Bill were introduced a second time and we amended it, it would still go through without our Amendments and without our consent. So that would not be a feasible policy.

The new fact that has emerged since we discussed this matter in 1948 i3 that soon after that debate the Royal Commission were appointed, and since then we have been awaiting their Report. Much has been made of the fact that the Chairman of that Commission, who presided over that long and arduous and most valuable inquiry into the facts of the case, a man of renowned and sober judgment, had begun the inquiry inclined against abolition and ended as an abolitionist. He has written an admirable: little booklet, called A Life for a Life?, which is by far the best statement that I have seen of the abolitionist case. Nevertheless, I feel some doubt about his own judgment, because the main substantive recommendation of the Commission, passed unanimously, was that the problem should be solved by giving powers to juries to determine not merely the fact of guilt or innocence but also whether or not the sentence should he one of death. To me that seems to be far the worst of the proposals that have been made, and in his book Sir Ernest Gowers says: It found almost no friends and is clearly dead. That having been the case with regard to his principal recommendation, I think we must look very carefully at the position on its merits.

The alternative has been suggested that the judges should be given power to decide. That proposal has been strongly opposed by all the judges, for very good reasons, and has now been universally abandoned. I come, therefore, to the third alternative—which is, that we should endeavour to provide some statutory definition of murders and divide them into two classes. That is the proposal of the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. For that reason, he said, he proposed to vote for the Bill. The Commission inquired most carefully into that proposal. They gave a great deal of study to the possibility of devising a form of words that would cover the murders to which those who believe in some measure of capital punishment wish to see the capital sentence applied and those to which they do not. Personally I have never been in favour of that idea, because I have been convinced that it is not possible to devise any such form; and I cannot vote for this Bill and send it to a Committee in order that that should be done, when I feel quite convinced that, when the Committee came to study the wording of such a formula, they would be unable to find it. That was the judgment of the Gowers Commission.

In his book Sir Ernest said: To devise a statutory definition of the more heinous sorts of murder and to restrict the death penalty to those who commit these—this is what the Government of 1948 tried to do and failed. We debated this in your Lordships' House at that time. He went on to say about his Commission: The object of our search is chimerical and must be abandoned. It is not a question of technical procedure in the Committee stage, whether we can do it in conformity with the framework of the Bill passed on Second Reading; to my mind, it is a question of the possibility of adopting a form of words which would carry out that purpose. I think it was Rousseau who said: Definitions would be very good things if only we did not have to use words to make them with I agree, therefore, with the verdict of the Commission on that head.

But at this point I differ from them. Sir Ernest Gower says: The conclusion to our mind is inescapable: that the real question is now whether capital punishment should be abolished or retained. He held that as the only alternative to a statutory definition. There I entirely disagree. I think it is untrue to say that if it cannot be done by Statute it cannot be done at all. It is being done all the time. There is such a discrimination; there is that differentiation; and it is done under the Royal prerogative by the Home Secretary. Every week or every month, there come before him these cases and he decides either for capital punishment or against capital punishment. Therefore that discrimination is now being exercised.

Sir Ernest Gowers, says: No one questions that it would be outrageous to let the law take its course in all cases. The most reverend Primate seemed to think it a wrong thing that there should be any doubt or uncertainty as to whether the murderer should be executed or not. Certainty is an excellent thing, and everyone is always praising it in the application of the criminal law—certainty of detection, certainty of arrest, certainty of punishment. But I do not know that you need necessarily know in advance precisely what is going to happen to a particular murderer in order to enable him to make up his mind whether he shall commit his murder or not. It may be a wholesome thing to keep the doubt existing in the criminal classes. One execution might be enough to deter ten possible murderers.

We have in this country the inestimable advantage—no student of history can praise it too highly—of living under an unwritten Constitution, which most of these other countries do not enjoy. We have not only the Statutory Law but we have also the Common Law, and we have the Prerogative of the Crown. The Crown has reserve powers which frequently in the course of our constitutional history have been brought into operation, sometimes in ways that were unforeseen, and have got us out of difficulties. There have been controversies about your Lordships' House, when your Lordships' House has behaved very naughtily, and it has been necessary to threaten the creation of Peers. That was a reserve right of the Crown which was actually employed in the reign of Queen Anne, and nearly had to be employed at the time of the Great Reform Bill and the passing of the Parliament Act. But that is not part of the Statute Law or of the Constitution. Then, again, when it was necessary to constitute a supreme court of law for the whole Empire, it was done by utilising the ancient Privy Council, who were invited to form their Judicial Committee.

The suggestion that I venture to submit to your Lordships—and it is the purpose of my speech and the reason why I have ventured to intervene in this crowded debate—is that in our difficulty we should deliberately turn to the Prerogative of the Crown and extend its application in the form of reprieves to capital cases. The processes of law are dealt with by the courts of law, who do justice. But the Crown, the Sovereign, personifying the nation, includes mercy as well as justice; and the Home Secretary, as the agent of the Crown, can bear in mind factors in any individual case which are not legal evidence, which relate to the personality of the criminal and to all the circumstances of the case but which cannot be defined in any Statute, if only he is free to exercise his own judgment. It has been well said that a miscarriage of mercy is as much to be avoided as a miscarriage of justice. I do not think the Home Secretary is to be criticised for those particular refusals of reprieves a few months ago that I have mentioned, because he is not free to exercise his own judgment on the whole merits of the case; he has to find some ground for interference with the course of law. It is to that point to which I would ask your Lordships to direct your attention. Is it not desirable that that restriction should be removed?

The most reverend Primate thought it wrong, and the Lord Chief Justice was, to some extent, inclined to agree with him, that there should be this discretion in the hands of an Executive officer, the Home Secretary, and that it was an interference with the course of law. I do not see that at all. Why should we not say that the law depends upon evidence, but that there are other things besides evidence which are necessary? That is, indeed, done, because where there is what is called a scintilla of doubt, then at once there is a reprieve. I know that my own rule was: if there is a doubt, there is no doubt—there must be reprieve. But even when the guilt is clear, there are circumstances which ought to be taken into account and which are not of a legal nature.

Therefore, to my mind, we should take such steps as may be necessary—and by "we" I mean the nation as a whole—to ensure that the discretion of the Home Secretary should be unfettered and that he should be able to report to the Crown what the combined influences of justice and mercy should require in a particular case. I believe that that would reduce the number of executions, which already is extremely small. Nearly half the death sentences are commuted, and that would reduce them still further, while still the power would be kept in reserve as a deterrent and would occasionally be used.

After all, who is it who is really responsible when an execution takes place: when that dread procedure is gone through of which we have read and of which we have been told—the condemned cell; the execution chamber; the pinioning of the prisoner; the pulling of the lever; a living human being and, a moment after, his dead body? Who is responsible for it? It is not the jury who have tried him, because their responsibility is only to discover the facts of guilt or innocence. It is not the judge, because once the murder has been ascertained and the sentence comes to be pronounced, he has no alternative. Murder is the only crime in which the penalty is fixed beforehand, and there is a single sentence to meet a multiplicity of different cases. The most reverend Primate spoke of the dread solemnity of the passing of sentence when it is known that in a large number of cases it will not be carried into effect. But that point was met by the judges themselves as soon as the reprieves became general after the action taken in the House of Commons, and the form of sentence now includes the words, "unless Her Majesty should otherwise direct." It may be that the form of pronouncing sentence may have to be still further modified.

It is sometimes said that you are putting upon the Home Secretary too heavy a burden; that no one should be asked to act by himself individually in cases like this, and still more so if you widen largely the scope of his jurisdiction. I suggested in my evidence to the Royal Commission that it might well be thought advisable that he should be provided with a panel of consultants, and that is now the law all over the Colonial Empire. I have had experience of both systems, as Home Secretary, where one had sole responsibility, and for five years in Palestine under the British Mandate as High Commissioner, where, as in all the Colonies at the present time, the Governor or High Commissioner has to consult his Executive Council on every death sentence—three or four members, whoever they may be—who can give their opinions, which, however, he is not bound to accept. Only where there is a difference of opinion has he to communicate the facts to the Colonial Office. Having worked under both, of the two I think I prefer the latter. There was never any difficulty; we were always unanimous, and it was a great relief to the mind of the High Commissioner or the Minister responsible to have his opinion confirmed or criticised by others. If this is practicable—and I suggest it is—then we should have to consider only the question of procedure of how it could be brought into effect, It need not be done by a Bill such as this.

Let me say in passing—I forgot to mention it earlier—that those who attach so much importance to the experience of foreign countries should always hear in mind that in hardly my of them did they begin with a Bill such as this. In almost every case they allowed capital punishment to fall into desuetude, and we should be following the practice of many countries whose actions have been discussed in the Commission's Report if we did not proceed with this Bill but left the matter to be dealt with by executive action with the approval of Parliament. Parliament must be consulted, and I have in mind the possibility that, after suitable discussion in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the Government of the day, it they favoured a measure of this sort could, through the Prime Minister, advise the Crown that the Crown should be ready to exercise the Prerogative of pardon, not only as now, but over a wider range of cases. If that is practicable, then the nation would not be divided into two as it is to-day, with millions of conscientious-minded people feeling deeply their responsibility for the executions that take place when they disapprove of them, while millions of others equally conscientiously would deplore the entire disappearance of this dread penalty in view of the shocking cases which from time to time occur.

The worst that could happen would be that this Parliament should take one line and the next Parliament should take another. A few outrageous cases might affect public opinion the other way. There might be a political assassination, as has been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. We have been fortunate in this country not to have had political assassinations. Suppose some great public figure were to be murdered in this country: what should be done with the murderer? Should it be nothing but the same sort of punishment as is meted to a persistent offender? In France where the capital punishment was suspended for years under two Presidents, the country reacted strongly against it, and under the pressure of Parliament it had to be restored. In New Zealand, as has been mentioned, capital punishment has been abolished and restored, and the same thing has happened in nine of the States of the American Union. We do not want our policy here in Britain to be other than well-considered and stable. We do not want it to fluctuate now one way and now another. Your Lordships' discussions will indeed have been useful if they help statesmanship to arrive at some measure of common agreement in the nation and thereby avoid the division of the whole people into two parts on an issue on which so many feel, and rightly feel, so deeply.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, it is through no choice of mine that I find myself speaking at this late stage of your Lordships' deliberations, and speaking amongst such "heavy artillery" just at the moment of time when your Lordships are all anxious to bring these deliberations to a close. I shall be very brief because, with one slight reservation, I heartily and completely agree with everything that has been said to your Lordships by the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel. I am not sure that I quite followed the precise procedure which he recommended with regard to the death penalty, and, for myself, I should have thought that the Home Secretary at the present moment had sufficient power and scope, and that there was sufficient flexibility in the exercise of the Prerogative which—I speak for myself—I should never regard as an overruling of anything that had been done in passing sentence in the courts. But those are minor matters, and if it is practicable to devise some form of procedure, or some alternative in the form of sentence, which will leave the final conclusion to the Home Secretary, provided that the sentence takes the form of "death unless," and not the other way about, I, for myself, would see no grave objection to that course.

I have been wiped off the slate in advance by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, but some of my colleagues have apparently reinstated the Law Lords, to a certain extent, with the Benches on my right. That is a good example of the fact that when someone says something with which you agree, you say that his opinion is weighty; but when you do not agree with what he says you wipe him off the slate. On every occasion that I have had to address your Lordships' House on any matter—though the occasions have been few—I have been haunted by the ghosts of Lord Eldon and Lord Ellenborough, who are always dragged up, and their misdeeds paraded, in order to discount anything that any judge ever says. I had hoped that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, the Lord Chief Justice, had laid the ghosts of those venerable judges. But not a bit—the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, has resurrected them and brought them into play again.

I do not think that any Law Lord has ever presumed to address your Lordships' House with a view to suggesting that his words carry any greater weight than the words of any other person, provided that that other person has had some experience of the subject matter with which he is dealing. Some greater weight may have been attributed by some of the Law Lord's supporters to what was said, but I do not think that any Law Lord himself has ever ventured to suggest that he should lay down the law to your Lordships, or lecture your Lordships on what decision you should come to, in this matter or any other.

But, my Lords, I think there are only some four or five Members of your Lordships' House, putting aside those who have had court-martial experience, who have ever had the solemn task of trying a murderer and the grave task of passing sentence of death in certain cases. Surely those who, over a period of years, have had to perform that task are entitled at any rate to express their views to your Lordships on these matters. And be it borne in mind that most judges do not come to that task afresh. For myself, I had spent twenty-two years at the Bar, a considerable proportion of which was work at assizes, appearing for prisoners and appearing against prisoners of all kinds. In the course of that experience, one comes in touch with the police of all grades, with prison doctors, with prison chaplains, with probation officers and, to a certain extent, sometimes, with the criminals themselves. One cannot help getting an impression as a result of an experience of that kind.

My own impression was, and remains, that the death penalty is a unique deterrent in the case of a hardened criminal and in the case of the young man who is about to set out on a life of crime. Those are my views, and that is the experience upon which they are based. My experience of eight years in the King's Bench Division, as it then was, in no way modified the views on that subject that I had when I went on to the Bench. But that is dealing with what I may call the short-term deterrent effect. I regard what I call the long-term effect as far more important, and it is in that respect that I find myself fortified by the views on this subject which were expressed by the most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, when he said that there must be some witness before the public, some witness of the enormity of this crime; and that for this purpose the death penalty in some shape or form must be retained.

One speaker from these Benches said something about the Sixth Commandment. A great number of the generation which is growing up have never heard of the Commandments; and if they have, they regard them as meaningless and without authority. Even those who go to church do not often hear the Ten Commandments read these days. In that state of affairs, something has to be done, in my opinion, to focus public opinion on the enormity of this offence; and I entirely agree with what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel: that it is quite wrong to let the potential murderer know beforehand the particular categories of murder he can commit without forfeiting his life and those which will imperil his life. The whole deterrent effect of the penalty as it is to-day is the fact that there is always the possibility that a man who commits murder may hang. And that, to my mine, is a most salutary deterrent. I agree that in these days the extreme penalty should be enacted only in a lesser number of cases as time goes on and as the pulse of public opinion can be felt and the reaction on crime can be estimated.

So much with regard to what I call the long-term deterrent. What is it suggested should be put in its place? We have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, exactly what "life imprisonment" means. What does it mean? It means that in a very few exceptional cases it may extend for the whole life of the man. In the other cases the murderers are either going to be treated as psychopaths, in some sort of institution, or they are going to be put in some prison and treated in exactly the same way as reprieved murderers are dealt with.


No: I made a distinction. I made a distinction between those who are reprieved at present and those who would have been executed.


I quite appreciated that distinction, but the point that I have in mind is that the public think that the proposal is to put in place of the death sentence a real life sentence. To my mind, to call this an administrative application of the sentence is—I do not want to use offensive language—almost a sham. It is not going to be a life sentence at all. It would be much better and more honest to put in the Bill: "In place of the death penalty the sentence shall be such imprisonment as, in the discretion of the Home Secretary, he may think fit." That would be a more honest way, in my view, of dealing with this matter. The public are misled if they think that there is really being substituted for the death penalty a real life sentence. If it were a real life sentence it would be cruel, brutal and destructive of the man's moral fibre, and it would not be tolerated for long by the very people who support this measure. They are genuine and real humanitarians, and they would be the first to see that very few people, if any, were ever allowed to serve a life sentence; and I should admire them for taking that course.

My Lords, I have detained you too long. I will conclude by saying only this. I entirely agree that one cannot define murderers in a satisfactory way. You cannot put them into categories. If you attempt to do so you will be making the administration of the law extremely difficult. You will be making it more clumsy than it is at present—with all due respect to the most reverend Primate. And, furthermore, I do not understand the proposals which are contained in these suggested' Amendments. Who is to decide in which category the man comes? Is it the jury, or is it the judge, after verdict? Criminal procedure provides that every fact in dispute must, and can only, be decided by the jury. Therefore I presume that the proposal under these Amendments must be to create a new kind of crime, a crime in the first degree, or something of that kind, of which the jury will either have to find the prisoner "Guilty" or "Not guilty". And that will only introduce still further difficulties and complications in the administration of the law. It is difficult enough, in all conscience, for the judge adequately to direct the jury on issues of insanity, provocation, self-defence and onus of proof. If, superimposed upon that, they must have pointed out to them all the various categories within one or other of which the man may come before he can be found guilty of the major penalty—


May I just correct the noble and learned Lord? What I suggested was that there were certain categories, easy to define, for which the death penalty would remain. Whether a particular man came within that category or not would be a pure matter of evidence. Thus, if the category was that any person who, in committing a crime, took a weapon with him, then the evidence would be whether or no he took a weapon. If he did, then he would be sentenced to the death penalty. So would the person who murdered a policeman on duty. That would be a pure matter of evidence. If the victim was a policeman, and he was murdered, then the murderer would suffer the death penalty. I do not see any difficulty. It is a pure matter of evidence, the categories being completely defined.


Yes, but who is to decide it? It must be the jury. A judge cannot decide a question of fact.


But that is what the Court is there to try—whether (a) the accused man murdered the person; (b) in murdering him he carried arms; or (c) the person murdered was a policeman. That is a pure matter of evidence.


Very well. I understand what the proposal is, and it remains as I thought it did, an issue for the jury. In many cases, after all, the issue is a fairly simple one if it is merely whether he was carrying a weapon, but I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that it is impossible to define those categories satisfactorily. If such a change were made it would add difficulty to the task of the jury and would make the administration of the law clumsy and difficult. If there is to be any change in the law on vital matters of this kind, surely this is not the way to do it. If the Government desire to make some radical alteration of the law of this kind they must introduce some measure, after having taken thought on all these matters.



For these reasons, I think and submit to your Lordships that there should be no question whatever but that your Lordships should show by your vote that you reject this Bill and refuse to give it a Second Reading. I would only conclude with this one observation. References have been made to Cyprus, Malaya and Kenya. What sort of sense will there be in the law of this country if one of the Governors of those territories is murdered in this country and his murderer is not hanged, whereas if he is murdered in Cyprus the murderer will be hanged?

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I shall seek your Lordships' indulgence for only two or three minutes, and then only to ask the noble Marquess who leads this House if he can give us some help. I have listened right through the debate and it seems to me that not only would it be undesirable that there should be a conflict between this House and the other place but it would be undesirable, if it can be avoided, that the large number of Members of this House who broadly want the same thing should vote in opposite directions. There is very clear evidence from what has been said that it is very likely to happen.

I am sure there is a broad measure of agreement here, although, of course, it does not include every noble Lord. Most of us regard judicial hanging as a horrible thing. We believe that it reduces the majesty of the law, for it is invested not with majesty but with squalor—and squalor of the most horrible kind. We believe that it has a very bad effect on certain people, and that it gives rise to a most unhealthy and morbid excitement which has a most undesirable effect upon unstable people who are likely in future to become criminals. It invests the whole business of murder and execution with a hideous, livid light of exhibitionism which we can see quite clearly exploited, for commercial reasons, by films, journals, books and papers. That that element exists is beyond doubt, and it is impossible to measure the harm which it does.

In most of us, the process of trial for murder—the "black cap", the condemnation, the condemned cell and the rest of it—induces in us a personal sense of guilt and shame, for we cannot escape the personal responsibility for what is done. In other people, in many cases, it actually induces a most undesirable state of mind. It induces, though not in the most horrible cases of murder, pity for the criminal. Sometimes the spectacle of the whole weight and apparatus of the State being turned in pursuit of some person who has committed a murder in circumstances less than horrible evokes in so many people—and who of us can say that it has never evoked it in us?—a sense of pity for that man or woman. Nor can we be quite sure, if we are honest with ourselves, that more mistakes are not made than are admitted. For, after a man has been hanged, there is a pressure not to reveal any new evidence which may throw doubt upon the justice of that execution—a pressure that that evidence ought not to come to light. I do not say for one moment that any responsible statesman or official would suppress such evidence; but since it can do no good, and since it must awaken unspeakable thoughts, there is a very strong pressure against its coming to light. I do not feel satisfied that we know there have never been, in living memory, any mistakes, and so I think it right to say that most of us would like, if we dared, to get rid of this thing.

Now, dare we? I do not believe that the death penalty is such a deterrent as some noble Lords have made out. I think it is far too uncertain that murder will be followed by a particular penalty, and the fact that there is latent in everybody this sense of guilt or reluctance is shown by the fact that, as the years go by, juries, lawyers, judges, psychiatrists and statesmen try to find every reason they can for not carrying out the sentence. In fact in more than half the cases of murder the sentence which has been passed is not carried out. That would be tolerable if the public and the criminal classes knew the reasons, but I must confess that to me, and I am sure to most laymen, the workings of the Macna2hten Rules—the considerations which lead to a decision not to hang a person, the principles upon which the Home Secretary advises the exercise of the Royal Prerogative—are not known. I doubt whether they are known to many Members of this House. They are certainly not known to the criminals in a form which would deter them from taking arms on a criminal expedition.

Therefore, it seems to me that this deterrent fails. On the other hand, many of us—I think I speak for others on both sides of the House—are worried about alternatives. That the present state of affairs is unsatisfactory would be the opinion of most people. What is the alternative? It seems to: me that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House can do a real service, net only to this House but to the country as a whole and to the future of our Parliamentary institutions, if he can possibly say that, if this Bill is given a Second Reading by this House, the Government will mobilise all their resources, legal and otherwise, to revise the whole system of the law with regard to murder in order that we can, so far as possible, obtain a unanimous opinion behind the right solution.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me, as Leader of the House, to say a few words in the closing stages of what has been to me, and, I am sure, to others, a deeply moving and, as I think we shall agree, in the fullest sense of the word an historic debate. I do not suppose that there is any noble Lord who has attended through these last two days who will forget the experience for a very long time. I assure your Lordships that I will be as brief as I can, for I know very well that the House is really ready to come to a decision. But there are certain things which I think I must say, certain things on which I have been asked by various speakers to express a view.

The question with which we have been concerned—whether capital punishment, the death penalty, or whatever you would call it, is to be abolished or retained in this country—is one of very peculiar delicacy, in view of the deep feelings which it arouses among noble Lords on both sides of the House. It is just because it does raise such great questions of principle that it has been decided by the Government that it shall be the subject of a free vote. Of course, the Government have their own view, and I think it is right that they should have their own view. That view was stated to your Lordships yesterday by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. That was the position in another place and that is the position here.

A free vote means exactly what it says—it means a vote given according to the individual conscience of the individual Member of the House. I certainly do not intend to advise your Lordships to-day not to vote the same way as the House of Commons if that is your convinced view. Equally, I certainly do not intend to advise you in a contrary sense. My intention in these few closing words is not so much to give advice as to say how I personally would propose to vote, if there is to be a Division, and to explain the balance of considerations that has led me to my own conclusion. That is the course which, with your Lordships' permission, I would propose to take.

I do not pretend, any more than any others of your Lordships, that I have found it easy to come to a decision on the extremely complicated issues that we have heard debated during these last two days. There are those who feel that all the arguments are on whichever side they may conscientiously support—and I think they are extremely fortunate. On one side there are those who feel that murder is so atrocious a crime that all murderers, save in exceptional circumstances, should be hanged, as not being fit to live; and there are others who have so passionate a feeling for the sanctity of human life that in their minds it outweighs all other considerations and makes them feel that the sacrifice of life by the community in the defence of the community can never, in any circumstances, be justified. We have heard contributions from some of those noble Lords to-day.

I, personally, do not share either of those two more extreme views. For me, as for the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York, it is a balance of considerations. I cannot feel, as do some retentionists, that murder is so terrible a crime that, for that reason alone, murderers are not fit to live. No doubt murder is a crime in a class of its own. Equally, no doubt, there are gradations of murder, and, moreover, as has been said by several noble Lords—I think the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, said it just now—the taking of life by the community is a terrible decision. I think we should all agree with that. Therefore I should not feel justified in supporting capital punishment merely on the grounds that the murderer was not fit to live. Taken in isolation, that seems to me to require an assumption by us of far too heavy a responsibility.

On the other hand, I cannot, like some, feel so passionately about the sanctity of human life as to be driven to the conclusion that the sacrifice of life is never justified. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. I believe there are circumstances in which the community may have to assume even that dreadful responsibility. After all, we do not think it wrong to kill our fellow men in war if we believe that to be necessary for the preservation of international law and order. How then is it necessarily morally wrong, as some noble Lords seem to think, to adopt the same view in our own national life with regard to the commission of the most hideous of all human crimes? I would have thought that a man who had taken the life of another human being could not, by any stretch of reason, claim immunity for his own, nor can anyone else claim it for him. I am bound, therefore, to reject argument on the extreme sanctity of life.

At the same time, I would agree that to take a fellow man's life is a very terrible thing which may call for some special reason to justify it. But the only adequate justification, as I think many of us feel, is if it is likely to deter others from committing the same type of crime in future. For me, as for many others, in spite of what I think the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, said, it is on the deterrent value of capital punishment that the whole balance of the argument must turn, and on that the main controversy has raged both in 1947 and now.

My Lords, we have had innumerable figures quoted by people who have found them quite convincing on one side or the other. By selecting figures from an immense document like the Report of the Royal Commission, one can produce very much the kind of effect one wants. I do not say that in any criticism of those who use them; it is human nature that we should do so. I should like to take just one case which has not been mentioned in any detail—the case of New Zealand. There, capital punishment was in abeyance from 1935 to 1941, and during that period the number of murders went down. That would seem to be a very strong argument for abolition, and might well be produced on that side. But in 1941 capital punishment was abolished, and then the numbers were more than doubled, and it had to be reintroduced in 1950. I am not quoting these figures in favour of retention of capital punishment. I am only saying that, like the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I find it impossible to draw any firm conclusion one way or another from this mass of figures. Therefore, in assessing their value, it seems to me that we have to take account, to some extent at any rate, of differing conditions in different countries, and the conclusions one draws are never likely to be really effective.

As a result, I have been driven back, like many other noble Lords, to one broad, simple consideration which I should like to put in your Lordships' minds. No one so far as I know, even among the most ardent supporters of the retention of capital punishment, has ever suggested that all murderers are deterred by capital punishment, because, after all, if that were true, in countries where capital punishment exists there would not be any murders at all. We have to decide whether any murderers, or any appreciable number of murderers, are deterred by capital punishment. Are we really to accept the thesis that capital punishment never deterred anyone, which I understood was the thesis of the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, as I listened to his speech? If that be true, if we accept that thesis, of course we shall vote for this Bill; it will be the right thing for us to do. But I personally find it very difficult to accept that thesis, and I have found it increasingly difficult to do so as I have listened to this debate during the last two days. I would have thought it was extremely difficult for anyone to accept it after he had listened to the powerful speech made to your Lordships by the Lord Chief Justice this afternoon.

Of course, there are cases, those of violent passion, lunacy, sexual mania and so on, where nothing deters the murderer; but in those cases it is rare for the penalty to be carried out. But in other cases of murder, the cold-blooded murder or even ordinary cases of violence, I find it impossible to believe that the thought that one may be executed will not have some deterrent effect; that there are not some people, at any rate, on whom the thought: "If I do this, I shall probably be hanged" does not have some moderating influence. That, at any rate, as your Lordships have heard, has been the considered view of a great many who have to deal with criminals. It is the view of a large number of Her Majesty's Judges, who have spoken to you to-day. It is certainly the view of the Prison Officers Association, from whom I have had a telegram (I will not trouble your Lordships with it because the hour is late) expressing their views in no uncertain manner; and, I believe, too, from such indication as I have had, and it has not been denied by anyone to-day, that it is broadly the view of the police, on whom our protection against these violent, lawless people largely depends.

But in any case, if I may say so in their presence, it is not the Judges, the police, the warders or any other limited section of the population who, under our Constitution, should finally decide a great question of this kind. We all know that it is the British people who should decide. What is the view of the British people on this particular question? The most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter spoke, and very naturally, of their sense of unease. I think it was the right reverend Prelate's own impression that he felt to exist among people on this subject at the present time. But, my Lords, do they, or does anyone, think that that unease is on one side alone? Such evidence as I have had, from the largest postbag I have had on any subject in a great many years (1 have it here and it is very large), is all on one side—except one single letter from a Conservative Peer—and it seems to indicate exactly the contrary. The vast majority of those letters—ane they are not the result of any intensive propaganda, so far as I know—are against the Bill; and they come almost entirely not from the rich and the great, who are cushioned by wealth and position from fear of attack, but from humble folk, and particularly, from elderly folk, who have often only a frail latch between themselves and violence.

I do not pretend that the letters are conclusive. I fully recognise that there has been a movement of opinion since 1948, but how great a movement I do not know, and I do not believe anyone does. That, in my view, presents your Lordships in this House with a constitutional problem of the first importance. It has been my privilege to lead the Conservative Party in this House now for fifteen years. That is a very long time in anyone's life. During the first part of that period, after the 1945 Election, your Lordships were faced with a new and extremely delicate position, with a large majority for one Party in one House of Parliament, and a large majority for the other Party in the other House. That was the position which I, as Leader of the Opposition, had to tackle, and I came to the conclusion—I hope and believe rightly—that in such a situation it would be constitutionally wrong for your Lordships to throw out every Bill with which we disagreed. It would indeed bring the whole machinery of government to a standstill. We must act on the assumption that anything that had been included in the programme of a Party which had been successful at the previous General Election had been approved by the electorate; and I recommended that view to my supporters in this House and they accepted it. It was on that basis that we gave a Second Reading to all the nationalisation Bills, though we did not like them; and we did our best to improve them and make them more workable on the Committee stage.

But there was a corollary to that policy, and it was this. Where issues had not been before the electorate we had to regard it as our function not to oppose the will of the people, the electorate, or even to interpret the will of the people, but very definitely, where we could, to give a breathing space to enable public opinion to crystallise on issues on which they had not been consulted and on which their views were not known. This seems to me exactly one of those cases. This question of capital punishment and the death penalty has quite definitely not been put before the electorate at the last or, so far as I know, any other General Election. I know, of course, that there are, on occasions, questions, it may be great questions, which blow up suddenly between elections, and on which the electorate cannot, in the nature of things, be consulted. In such a case it has always been, I believe I am right in saying, the traditional practice of Parliament that Members should use their best judgment in the interests of their constituents and the country. That, as the House knows, is the practice that has been invoked, I think very wisely, in another place in this case.

But, my Lords, I cannot believe that this is one of the cases to which that practice should properly be applied. After all, this question of the abolition of the death penalty is no sudden issue, utterly unforeseen, which could not possibly have been raised at the General Election. It is not a new issue at all. Moreover, my Lords, it is known to be one about which the British people are at best doubtful. If no Party liked to tackle it—and no Party, either Liberal. Labour or Conservative did put it on their programme—one would have expected at any rate that those Members who are now promoting the Bill as a matter of such urgent importance that it brooks no delay at all would have made it, so far as they could, an issue at the Election. But I had the curiosity to inquire what mention of capital punishment there had been in the Election addresses of those Members in all Parties who have supported this Bill in another place. What did I find? Not one single one had ever mentioned the subject in his Election address. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said that he mentioned it to his constituents, and I think it does him great honour and shows considerable courage on his part; but I am sure he would not claim that that amounted to the matter being formally before the electorate at the Election.

I do not say what I have said in any spirit of criticism of those Members concerned. It is open to any Member, as we all well know, to put anything he likes in his Election address. But I want merely to make it clear—and this, I may say, is emphasised in nearly every letter I have received against this Bill—that the British people have never been consulted at all on a matter in which they are deeply and personally concerned. If I am told that consultation at a General Election on an individual issue of this kind is valueless, because the decision at an Election is reached not on a single issue but on the programme of a Party as a whole, I should reply that there was a great deal of truth in that, but that it was equally true with regard to other measures said to have been approved by the electorate in recent history. For instance, in the case of the nationalisation Bills to which I referred earlier, the electors were given a chance of knowing what was contemplated, and might, if they felt strongly enough, have made it a dominating factor in their decisions as between one candidate and another. That was not so in the present case. They have had no opportunity of any kind of testifying to their views. To my mind that is a very important factor, and it has given us a certain responsibility, in my view a considerable responsibility, for giving them time to enable their mind; to crystallise; and, if they think good, to express their views.

The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, in the speech with which he introduced the Bill, enunciated a doctrine which I must confess was new, and slightly shocking to me. It was (the noble Viscount will correct me if I am wrong) that where Parliament considers that the British people are not competent to judge on a subject, because they have not the necessary information, Parliament can quite properly ignore their views. That is what, in effect, he said.


I could not hear the last sentence.


I said that the doctrine enunciated was that where Parliament considers the British people are not competent to judge on an important subject, because they have not adequate information, it is quite proper for Parliament, in effect, to ignore their views—that is to say, to come to a decision without consultation with them. I think he said that, without that, it would have been impossible to make any advance at all in reforms of various kinds. I entirely reject that doctrine, and I hope that your Lordships do too. It seems to me quite impossible for Parliament in this country, or in any other, if it is a free Parliament, to pay lip service to democracy in theory and not accept its implications in practice. To say that we trust the people when the people happen to agree with us, and to fail to trust the people in practice, when the people happen to take a rather different view—that way, to my mind, lies the destruction of free democracy, and all those other evils with which we are very familiar in other countries.

In conclusion, I would say that I believe that there are very strong arguments in favour of amending the law on murder. That, indeed, has already been clearly recognised by the Government in a debate in another place on February 16 this year. And even if I personally had not thought so before, I should certainly think so in the light of these two days of debate. Indeed, if I may say so, I agreed very much with what was said on this particular point by the most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. I can therefore assure the House that the Government will give every attention to all the points made. I emphasise that to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who seemed to think that: only a few rather minor and superficial points might be considered. Consideration will be given to all the points which have been made with so much weight. and so much authority by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keith of Avonholm, by the Lord Chief Justice, and by the most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury in this House during the present debate. And, in particular, I can assure the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel, that I shall be happy to put before my colleagues the points which he raised in the very remarkable speech which he delivered to your Lordships this afternoon.

His proposal, as I understood it, is that the discretion of the Home Secretary in matters of this kind should be unfettered. I should be very happy to put that proposal—assuming that I have understood the noble Viscount correctly—to my colleagues. Clearly I cannot say more, and he will not expect me to say more than that to-day. But I can assure him, and the House, that the matter will have the fullest consideration, as also will the procedure he suggested by which Parliament mi3ht pay attention to it. I felt, as I listened to him, that such matters as that—I am not tying myself to acceptance of these proposals—are much more likely to bring us a satisfactory solution of the present difficulties than can a Second Reading of the present Bill, and then an attempt to "tinker about" with it on the Committee stage. In any case, from the advice which I have received, this particular Bill would be a very awkward vehicle for amendment. If you start with a Bill to abolish the death sentence, and then import into it Amendments dealing with, perhaps, such things as provocation, constructive malice, and possibly with diminished responsibility, or perhaps also Amendments to preserve the death penalty for particular types of murder (if these can be satisfactorily defined) which may not be distinguishable in their gravity from other murders outside the definition, you might at the end of the day have a Bill of bits and pieces—in fact a Bill unsatisfactory in practice, lacking the certainty and clarity which all your Lordships recognise as most desirable.

I am not going to rest my case on that argument alone. It seems to me that there is one overriding argument against the whole procedure of giving this Bill a Second Reading, and then amending it in Committee—especially in the conditions in which it now comes before us. I hold, with the noble Viscount. Lord Waverley, that if we give a Second Reading to this Bill we shall be regarded by the British people as having accepted the principle of absolute abolition inherent in the Bill. This, in fact, many of us, including the most reverend Primate himself, reject. As I said, I do not in any way rule out the possibility of alternative action as a subject for proper consideration. Indeed, I should think that that was implicit in what I have already said, when I explained that the Government will give every attention to the arguments put forward by those noble Lords I have mentioned. If we give a Second Reading to this Bill we shall, I repeat, be generally regarded as having given the support of this House not to reform of the law of murder but to the abolition of the death penalty. And, moreover, we shall be held to that in the future. That, I understand, is certainly not what most of us want. I do not think it is what the most reverend Primate wants.


May I ask the noble Marquess one question? What he has just said relieves me very greatly. As I said, I am terribly anxious lest I should appear to be voting with people with whom I totally disagree. May it be taken as a firm pledge that the Government will introduce a measure under which it will be possible for such proposals as I mentioned to be discussed, because if I knew that that would be within the ambit of a measure sponsored by the Government, I should refrain from voting to-night.


It is a little difficult to give an absolute undertaking, because I have been sitting on this Bench all afternoon and I have not had the opportunity of consulting my colleagues. I promise the most reverend Primate that I will put it before them. I thought that what I said indicated that we did not in any way rule out alternative action as soon as we possibly can. I cannot go further than that.


Would it be next Session?


I have said that I will put what has been said to-day before my colleagues. The noble Viscount really must not jump at things of this kind; he must wait and see in a proper manner. I am sorry to have kept your Lordships for so long. I am not going to ask any other noble Lord, for motives of loyalty either to myself or to the Government, to follow me into the "No" Lobby. This is a free vote, and in that vote every noble Lord must do whatever his conscience directs. But for the reasons I have stated, and especially for this last reason, which I believe to be fundamental—unless the Bill is withdrawn, and I am afraid that that is too much to hope—when the House proceeds to a Division, I shall find myself compelled to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.


My Lords, may I venture to ask the noble Marquess one question? If the majority of this House should follow the course which he is going to take, does that mean that the Government would then reintroduce hanging?


My Lords, I explained to the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, yesterday that we must see what the result of this Division is going to be, and, when that result is known, the Government must consider all the implications of it. I cannot give answers to questions of that kind.

7.21 p.m.


My Lords, it is with a feeling of deep humility that I rise to make the last speech in this historic and momentous debate. I believe that the last occasion when this House had a gathering of this kind was during the debates on the Irish Home Rule Bill. I do not pretend that I can draw any moral from that, except that your Lordships' House de-clared itself firmly against Home Rule and were eventually obliged to give it in due course. I believe that during these last two days the House has heard both points of view put at their best. I think that no noble Lord has any reason for not appreciating the point of view put both by the abolitionists and by those who, for the sake of brevity, I shall call the retentionists. I suppose that never has the quality of speeches in this House been higher, and I imagine that at this moment I am addressing one of the most critical audiences in the world.

What is the case for the Bill? We put our case primarily, as many noble Lords have explained, on our view of the sanctity of life. We believe that it is fundamentally wrong for the State to carry out an act which it is punishing other people for doing. On the other hand, if I am asked whether I take that view in all circumstances, and whether in no circumstances is it right for the State to take life, then I am bound to say that, in my view, there may be circumstances in which it would he right to do so. One of those circumstances would be if it were necessary for the safety and security of the population of this country. Therefore, obviously, the case of war arises, when the taking of life is justified. If it could be shown that only by the taking of life was it possible to deter people from committing the foul act of murder, then I personally would be in favour of the retention of the death penalty in that particular circumstance. I speak for myself; in this debate we can only speak for ourselves. I have no organisation or Party to speak for on this issue.

Naturally, a great part of the debate over these two days has ranged round the question of whether or not the death penalty is an essential deterrent against murder. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and many others, have stated fairly, although others have taken more extreme views, that they do not contend that the deterrent is present in all cases. It is present in a certain number of cases—that is, a certain number of people are deterred from carrying out murder because of the fear of capital punishment. How many, nobody can say. The noble Marquess cannot say; of course not. He cannot say to what extent the fear of capital punishment is a deterrent nor can he say whether it is a necessary deterrent. Noble Lords in all parts of the House have indicated that in their view it is only capital punishment which is the deterrent and that life imprisonment is not a deterrent. I profoundly take the opposite view. In my view, it is not true—and I believe that it is incapable of proof—that capital punishment, taken by and large, is a greater deterrent than imprisonment or imprisonment for life. Indeed, there is some ground for suggesting that owing to the glorification of capital punishment there are a number of people who actually commit murder in order to figure, as they think, in the centre of events—possibly it is their oily chance of doing so in life. It is quite impossible to say to what extent, if at all, the number of capital crimes would be increased or diminished if capital punishment were abolished. It is because a number of my friends and I, and a number of noble Lords on the other side of the House, do not accept that this is an essential deterrent that we propose to vote in favour of the Bill.

Like the noble Marquess, I am not going to quote figures—or, I should say, unlike the noble Marquess, because he said that he was not going to do so and proceeded to quote some figures from New Zealand. I agree that figures can be misleading, especially if it is desired to select figures and make a case on those. I do not put the Report of the Royal Commission any higher than that, having over a number of years made an exhaustive inquiry, as exhaustive as it was possible for them to make, the conclusion that they came to was that there was no evidence all over the world—I think they consulted something like forty countries—that the !number of cases of murder had been increased as the result of abolition; and their general view was that the abolition or retention of capital punishment made no difference to the number of crimes committed. Noble Lords can agree or disagree with that, but I submit that that view is entitled to great respect. It is entitled to the respect which should be given to the conclusion of a number of men and women who, having given four years of their time and travelled all over the world to test the experience of other countries, and having talked to people and taken evidence, unanimously came to the view that the question of a unique deterrent by hanging is irrelevant.

Capital punishment has been abolished in a large number of countries throughout the world; in fact, so far as Europe is concerned, we are in a minority. I recognise that in a limited number of countries it has been restored, and in some countries it has been abolished once more after restoration. But in every country that has abolished capital punishment there must have been a debate of this kind before it was actually carried into law. Whether it was as spectacular and as peaceful as this debate I could not say; but there must have been great heart-searchings, a great many speeches and a good deal of opinion one way and the other before each of those countries separately arrived at the conclusion which it did. Again, we can scoff at that and say that we are not like other countries and have no business to take much notice of what they do. Nevertheless, it is a significant fact that the kind of case that I imagine they were satisfied with is the kind of case which we have been putting forward yesterday and this afternoon.

It is perhaps hardly necessary for me to say this, but as it has been said by the Lord Chief Justice and by others I do want to say quite categorically that the view that we take has nothing to do with any sympathy for the murderer. I hope that that idea can be completely eliminated. I would not have mentioned it, but for the fact that the Lord Chief Justice thought it right to mention it and to suggest that those who take the view I am taking are taking it because of sympathy for the murderer and no sympathy for the victim. I also want to make the point that, although I am winding up the debate, I am not doing so on behalf of my Party. This is not a Party issue on my side of the House, any more than it is on the other side. Therefore noble Lords who will be deciding how to vote need have no compunction about going into a Division Lobby in which they may find a certain number of my friends; they will feel quite at home, because I imagine that they will be meeting a number of their own friends, too.

A number of noble Lords have taken the view that we have no right to jeopardise the safety of individuals by abolishing capital punishment, and no right to give additional apprehension to lonely people in lonely parts of the country and so on. I recognise—and I think in fairness we are bound to recognise—that, in spite of the Report of the Royal Commission, and in spite of the views which we hold, the abolition of capital punishment may involve some risks. But at every stage of the improvement in our penal law the same fears have had to be faced and the same risks run. I am not going to quote Lord Ellenborough again, but the Lord Ellenborough approach has been present throughout every step that this country has taken in the direction of amelioration of the penal law. Even as late as the 1860's, when public hanging was abolished, it was feared that the deterrent effect of public hanging was so great that it would be running grave risks to abolish it. One of the subsidiary effects of public hanging, even in the days when pickpocketing was an offence punishable by capital punishment, was that at these public hangings pickpockets had their heyday, and more pockets were picked during public hangings than at any other time. So much for the deterrent effect. Of course, as each amelioration has taken place none of the feared effects has been seen. The abolition of public hanging did not result in any increase of capital crimes. I believe that if we take this step, in spite of the risks involved, we need have little fear that, on balance, the number of capital crimes will be increased.

We are not taking an irrevocable step, in any case. This Bill is stated to be for a limited period, and if at the end of a limited period the fears that many noble Lords have expressed are realised, there is no reason why we should not take the same line as has been taken by a number of States in the United States of America or by New Zealand and reintroduce capital punishment, or reintroduce it in the form in which the most reverend Primate and others would wish it to be reintroduced. It is not an irretrievable step that we are taking, although many of us sincerely believe that it will, not be necessary to reintroduce capital punishment in any form.

The noble Marquess, the Leader of the House, spoke of public opinion. I came to the House prepared for another line that he might take, and I have taken the precaution of bringing with me Hansard for 1948. On that occasion the noble Marquess made much the same kind of speech as he made to-day, except, that then he thought that the time was not ripe and that there ought to be some delay. Well there has been delay. There has been the opportunity since 1948 for public discussion and discussion in the two Houses of Parliament. We have had several more decisions of the House of Commons on this matter. The noble Marquess might have feared in 1948 (although then it was not a decision on a Bill, but on a clause in the Criminal Justice Bill which sought to abolish capital punishment), possibly with some justification, that this thing had been rather sprung on the public anti on Parliament, and that it was right that Parliament and everybody else should have the fullest opportunity of giving further consideration to it—and perhaps, also, it was because there was a Labour Government.

Nevertheless, since that time eight years have elapsed. Parliament has conic to the same conclusion on no fewer than three or four separate occasions, by a majority vote consisting of Members from all Parties. I do not think it can be said to-day that this matter requires further consideration, or needs to be delayed, because the facts are not known. So to-day the noble Marquess takes the view that public opinion is against us. How does he know? How does he judge public opinion?


I did not say that: I said that neither I nor anybody else knew.


I am of the same opinion. I think it would be very rash for anybody to say to-day what public opinion is on this matter, although a number of noble Lords have presumed to say so, quite definitely, throughout this debate. They have claimed that public opinion is with their view. I am sorry if I misrepresented the noble Marquess, because I have no desire to do that; but if he really means that he is uncertain of public opinion, and that he has no idea what public opinion is on the matter, then I would agree with him completely.

I believe there is an inference to be drawn from that. After all, the public know what is going on, and I should think that if public opinion were strongly against this measure it would have made itself felt. Public opinion has a way in this country, if a view is strongly held, of making that view felt and heard, and there is no suggestion at all that public opinion takes a strong view on this matter one way or the other. Indeed, the view seems to be very much that of the Royal Commission: that the effect of abolishing capital punishment in these various countries has been hardly noticeable. It is true that the noble Marquess has received a great many communications. Of course he has. He is the natural target for communications of all kinds, and I have no doubt that he has a very big postbag at all times. But when one takes the number of people who have taken the trouble to write to him, I do not think he would claim that that has any special significance. In judging of this matter, have we not to do the best we can on the assumption that public opinion is not very vociferous on this issue, and that Gallup Polls change so rapidly that they can hardly be relied upon at any particular moment? Indeed, if the noble Marquess were relying on the Gallup Poll—


I never saw the Gallup Poll.


Some noble Lords did, but I will refrain from saying what it was going to say about the Gallup Poll. This question of public opinion is significant, because a number of noble Lords have niacin the point that we have no right to legislate on this matter because public opinion is against us. If the noble Marquess does not take that point, then I can only say that we have a right to legislate on this question on the merits.


I do not want to keep interrupting the noble Lord, because I know the House wants to come to a conclusion, but what I said was that public opinion had never been consulted. That is what I think is important. If public opinion came down in favour of abolition, I should accept that in a moment; but it has not been consulted at all.


I can only say that there is no machinery for specific consultation on individual matters—it is not part of our Constitution. But I do say that if public opinion felt strongly about this, both the noble Marquess and I would have heard a good deal about it. Whether the noble Marquess takes the view that, because public opinion has not been consulted, therefore we ought to take one line or the other on this Bill, is not clear.

I submit that the only duty of the House this evening is to vote on this Bill on its merits. This Bill is before us. It has been passed through all its stages by the House of Commons by a majority vote, and we are obliged to examine it entirely on its merits and without any question or consideration as to what public opinion might be if there were some machinery for taking that opinion. Of course, if we had a referendum we could have it on a great many other questions. But some indication of the way public opinion has moved since 1948 has been provided by what has happened in these last two days in this House. In 1948, there was not a single member of the Judiciary who had any kind of approval for abolition, qualified or otherwise. Every single learned Lord who spoke expressed unqualified disapproval of the abolition of capital punishment and made no suggestion whatever at any time that the law regarding capital punishment required any kind of amendment. Indeed, the impression one got was that, in so far as amendment was required, it was required in the sense of making the law more stringent.

So far as the Bishops are concerned, in 1948 hardly any of the Bishops spoke in favour of abolition. I do not remember whether the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chichester spoke or not. If he did, I naturally assume that he spoke in favour of abolition. But I doubt whether any other Bishop spoke in favour of abolition. Now, the position has changed. I know that the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken in very qualified terms—I accept that—and so did the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of York. I do not think he spoke in wholly unqualified terms in favour of abolition—he had certain reservations to make.


I regret having to interrupt the noble Lord. I said without any reservation at all that it was my intention to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, and that I desired its passage into law on the grounds that it would be good for the country.


I am delighted at that correction. It strengthens my point that the move of public opinion has gone much further than I had anticipated when this debate started. We have the support both of members of the Judiciary and of the Bishops in this matter, and I believe that when the vote is taken—although I have no false optimism about the matter—it will be found that a great many more noble Lords are in favour of this Bill than would have been the case in 1948. So if one can judge of the movement of public opinion in that way, then I would submit that public opinion is moving slowly, perhaps too slowly for some, in the direction of abolition.

I had intended to say a few words about the unhappy position of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who finds himself unable to vote in either Lobby or, so far as I can gather, to agree with any of the contentions that have been put forward by any noble Lord in this House. I quite understand and respect his intellectual dilemma, and I do not know what he can do to resolve it. But certainly he cannot resolve it by taking any view on this Bill. But it is a difficulty which I imagine few noble Lords will find themselves in at the end of the day. At the end of the day we have to decide either that we support the Bill and agree with abolition in principle, or that we do not agree with abolition and have to oppose the Bill.

Finally, I want to say a few words about the constitutional position. I do not think that is very difficult. We have this evening a free vote, and the noble Marquess has been at some pains to confirm that every noble Lord, at any rate on his side of the House—and I say the same for every noble Lore on my side—is perfectly free to vote as his conscience directs. The noble Marquess has given a lead as to his opinion, as he was entitled to do, and he knows very well that whatever he says and every opinion that he expresses carries a good deal of weight with his friends. I hope that the views that I am expressing may carry a little weight with some of my friends. That is only natural. But I doubt whether he has convinced all his friends, and I am quite sure that I have not convinced all of mine. So we are entering into this Division completely free—there is no doubt about that. But that does not end the matter. After all, this Bill has been passed by a majority of the House of Commons, and we have been told that that is a factor which Her Majesty's Government must take into account and that their actions must be dictated by that fact.

Now what are those actions? Assuming that this Bill is rejected to-day, it will doubtless come before us again in the near future. If the House of Commons is of the same mind as it was then (as, of course, it must be if it comes to us again), it will inevitably come before us next Session and then we shall be compelled to accept it. It would be an ignominious position if this House far the first time were faced with the operation of the Parliament Act in a measure of this kind, which I would have thought should essentially be carried with the general good will of Parliament as a whole. I would ask noble Lords, therefore, to consider carefully how they vote.

But there is another point which I put to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. Pending the decision of your Lordships' House there have been a number of reprieves. I have no doubt that each case was considered on its merits and that, by an extraordinary set of circumstances, each case has been found worthy of reprieve since the House of Commons decided upon abolition. Suppose that we reject this measure to-day: what happens in the future about reprieves? Is this to be a question of cat-and-mouse? Is it to depend entirely on how this House votes to-day whether reprieves in the future will come about as consistently as they have in the past few months? Suppose that the Home: Secretary, after we have rejected this Bill, decides that he finds himself unable to reprieve to the extent that he has been doing and he will go back to dealing with each case strictly on its merits. Will he then start granting reprieves again if the House of Commons gives another decision in favour of abolition? Can we really go on in this way? Is it not reducing the whole thing to a farce? Whatever we do to-day, are we not virtually in the position of having abolished capital punishment?



Noble Lords may say "No"; but I ask them to face up to this dilemma; there has been no capital punishment since the House of Commons approved this Bill or, I believe I am right in saying, since they passed the Second Reading of the Bill. For a good many months every case has been reprieved. Can we really go back? I submit that it is quite impossible to go back on what we have clone, and that, whether we like it or not (and obviously a number of noble Lords do not like it) we have taken an almost irrevocable step in the direction of abolishing capital punishment.

Now I want to say a few concluding words. This is a very remarkable occasion. We are concerned with a limited number of deaths, not more than twelve or thirteen executions in a year, and one might ask—a view taken during this debate—what all this fuss is about. Why are we making all this fuss and taking all this interest in a matter of twelve or thirteen executions in a year, when in fact there are thousands of casualties on the roads which create nothing like the same amount of interest or excitement and which are at least as avoidable as the executions that take place? I feel that the answer really shows this House at its best. We are here concerned not so much with a practical day-to-day issue as with a moral issue. This House is very concerned with moral issues. We are all delighted that it should he so. I believe that to-night is one of the climacterics in the history of penal reform. What we do to-night will he quoted and remembered in the centuries to come.

This country has witnessed a continued march in the direction of progress towards a humanisation of punishment. We have not abolished punishment—and I take the same view as the right reverend Prelates on the value of retribution—but we have moved from stage to stage along a road towards constant amelioration of the brutalities of punishment. I regard this as merely one stage along that road. I think that this movement is inevitable, and I could not help deducing from the speech of the noble Marquess that he himself thinks so too; the real difference between us is whether we have actually arrived at this stage or not. In my view we have arrived at the stage when we can take this further step in the humanisation

of punishment. The noble Marquess and others possibly take the view that it is at this moment premature; but it will come, and I should have liked to see this House in the van of progress rather than lagging long behind it.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided:—

Contents, 95; Not-Contents, 238.

Canterbury, L. Abp. Manchester, L. Bp Keith of Avonholm, L
York, L. Abp. Newcastle, L. Bp. Kenswood, L.
Ripon, L. Bp. Kershaw, L.
Devonshire, D. Wakefield, L. Bp. Layton, L.
Lyle of Westbourne, L
Lothian, M. Adrian, L. Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L.
Amherst of Hackney, L Mathers, L.
Airlie, E. Amulree, L. Melchett, L.
Amherst, E. Amwell, L. Merthyr, L.
Attlee, E. Archibald, L. Meston, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Boyd-Orr, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Cranbrook, E. Brabazon of Tara, L Mottistone, L.
Haddington, E. Burden, L. Moynihan, L.
Haig, E. Carnock, L. Ogmore, L.
Harewood, E. Carrington, L Pakenham, L.
Listowel, E. Cawley, L Pethick-Lawrence, L.
Lucan, E. Cohen, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Perth, E. Coleraine, L. Raglan, L.
Waldegrave, E. Craigmyle, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Croft, L. Rea, L.
Addison, V. Darwen, L Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Dickinson, L. Rothschild, L.
Astor, V. [Teller.] Douglas of Kirtleside, L. Rusholme, L.
Esher, V. Dowding, L. Russell of Liverpool, L.
Hambleden, V. Evershed, L. Sherwood, L.
Ridley, V. Foley, L. Silkin, L.
Stansgate, V. Glenconner, L Somervell of Harrow, L.
Templewood, V. Grantchester, L Strabolgi, L.
Thurso, V. Greenhill, L. Terrington, L.
Harmsworth, L. Wilmot of Selmeston, L.
Chichester, L. Bp. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Winster, L.
Ely, L. Bp. Henderson, L. Wise, L. [Teller.]
Exeter, L. Bp. Hore-Belisha, L Wrenbury, L.
London, L. Bp. Hungarton, L
Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Bathurst, E. Iddesleigh, E.
Beauchamp, E. Ilchester, E.
Salisbury, M. (L. President.) Buckinghamshire, E. Inchcape, E.
Clarendon, E. Limerick, E.
Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.) Cork and Orrery, E. Lonsdale, E.
Sutherland, D. Craven, E. Macclesfield, E
Wellington, D. De La Warr, E. Mansfield, E.
Devon, E. Morley, E.
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Dudley, E. Normanton, E.
Abergavenny, M. Dundee, E. Onslow, E.
Bristol, M. Eldon, E. Poulett, E.
Cholmondeley, M. Ferrers, E. Radnor, E.
Lansdowne, M. Fortescue, E. Rosebery, E.
Ormonde, M. Glasgow, E. Rosslyn, E.
Reading, M. Gosford, E. St. Aldwyn, E.
Willingdon, M. Halifax, E. Selborne, E.
Halsbury, E. Selkirk, E.
Albemarle, E. Home, E. Shaftesbury, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Howe, E. Southesk, E.
Spencer, E. Birdwood, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Stair, E. Blackford, L. Leconfield, L.
Stanhope, E. Brand, L. Leigh, L.
Swinton, E. Brassey of Apethorpe, L. Lloyd, L.
Westmorland, E. Braye, L. Luke, L.
Winterton, E. Brocket, L. Mackintosh of Halifax, L.
Woolton, E. Broughshane, L. Macpherson of Drumochter, L.
Bruntisfield, L. McCorquodale of Newton, L.
Barrington, V. Chatfield, L. Mancroft, L.
Bridgeman, V. Cherwell, L. Merriman, L.
Bruce of Melbourne, V. Chesham, L. Middleton, L.
Caldecote, V. Clitheroe, L. Milne, L.
Camrose, V. Colgrain, L. Milverton, L.
Chelmsford, V. Colwyn, L. Moncreift, L.
Cilcennin, V. Colyton, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Conesford, L. Monson, L.
Cowdrav, V. Congleton, L. Morris, L.
Crookshank, V. Cornwallis, L. Morrison, L.
Cunningham of Hyndhope, V. Cranworth, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Davidson, V. Cunliffe, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
De L'lsle, V. Denham, L. Newall, L
Elibank, V. Deramore, L. Oaksey, L.
Falmouth, V. Derwent, L. O'Hagan, L.
FitzAlan of Derwenr, V. Digby, L. Palmer, L
Furness, V. Dinevor, L. Pender, L.
Gage, V. Dormer, L. Quibell, L
Goschen, V. [Teller.] Dovercourt, L. Radeliffe, L.
Hailsham, V. [Teller.] Ebbisham, L. Rathcavan, L.
Hampden, V. Ellenborough, L. Remnant, L.
Hereford, V. Elton, L. Rennell, L.
Hudson, V. Ennisdale, L. Rochdale, L.
Kemsley, V. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Rockley, L.
Knutsford, V. Forester, L. Remilly, L.
Long, V. Forres, L. Rotherwick, L.
Malvern, V. Fraser of North Cape, L. Sackville, L.
Margesson, V. Freyberg, L. St. Levan, L.
Maugham, V. Geddes, L. Salter, L.
Monsell, V. Gifford, L. Salioun, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Gisborough, L. Sandford, L.
Portman, V. Glentanar, L. Sandhurst, L.
Scarsdale, V. Godber, L. Savile, L.
Simonds, V. Goddard, L. Save and Sele, L.
Soulbury, V. Gorell, L. Sempill, L.
Stonehaven, V. Grenfeil, L. Sinha, L.
Waverley, V. Gridley, L. Strung, L.
Hacking, L. Strathcarron, L.
Rochester, L. Bp. Haden-Guest, L. Strathclyde, L.
Hailey, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Aberdare, L. Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Swaythling, L.
Ailwyn, L. Hampton, L. Templemere, L.
Airedale, L. Hankey, L. Teviot, L.
Aldenham, L. Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Teynham, L.
Allerton, L. Harris, L. Thurlow, L.
Ammon, L. Hatherton, L. Trefgarne, L.
Ampthill, L. Hawke, L. Tucker, L.
Ashton of Hyde, L. Hayter, L. Tweedsmuit, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Hindlip, L. Waleran, L.
Baden-Powell, L. Hothfield, L. Walpole, L.
Baillieu, L. Hylton, L. Walsingham, L.
Balfour of Inchrve, L. Jeffreys, L. Webb-Johnson, L.
Barnby, L. Jessel, L. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Belstead, L. Keyes, L. Wolverton, L.
Bennett of Edgbaston, L. Killearn, L.
Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
House adjourned at twenty-four minutes past eight o'clock.

[From the Minutes of Monday, 9th July, 1956]