§ MR. C. B. HARMSWORTH (Worcestershire, Droitwich)
I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether any settled principles govern the exercise of the prerogative of mercy in cases involving the capital sentence; and, if not, whether he will consider the desirability of taking steps to establish such principles. —
§ MR. GLADSTONE
It would be neither desirable nor possible to lay down hard and fast rules as to the exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy. Numerous considerations—the motive, the degree of premeditation or deliberation, the amount of provocation, the state of mind of the prisoner, his physical condition, his character and antecedents, the recommendation or absence of recommendation from the jury, and many others—have to be taken into account in every case; and the decision depends on full review of a complex combination of circumstances, and often on the careful balancing of conflicting considerations. As Sir William Harcourt said in this House, "The exercise of the prerogative of mercy does not depend on principles of strict law or justice, still less does it depend on sentiment in any way. It is a question of policy and judgment in each case, and in my opinion a capital execution which in its circumstances creates horror and compassion for the culprit rather than a sense of indignation at his crime is a great evil." There are, it is true, important principles which I and my advisers have constantly to bear in mind; but an attempt to reduce these principles to formulae and to exclude all considerations which are incapable of being formulated in precise terms would not, I believe, aid any Home Secretary in the consideration of the difficult questions which he has to decide.
§ MR. LEA (St. Pancras, E.)
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to suspend capital punishment until a Court of Criminal Appeal has been established.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
† See (4) Debates, clxv., 84.