HC Deb 05 December 1928 vol 223 cc1220-5
Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I beg to move, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the abolition of Capital Punishment."

The Bill seeks to substitute for the death penalty, penal servitude for life, subject to all existing powers to fix sentences, with the qualification that, if the jury recommend a convicted person to mercy, the Court of Criminal Appeal may substitute any lesser sentence. It does not affect naval or military law, and I have the support of Members of all three parties in the House. The proposal is not novel or revolutionary, and when I read a list of the countries which have already, either abolished the death penalty, or for a great number of years have abrogated that penalty, it will be seen that a very large number of civilised countries—some not as far advanced as we are culturally—are in that list. The following are the countries in which the death penalty has either been formally abolished or abrogated, and the dates: Austria, 1918; Belgium, 1863; Finland, 1826; Denmark, 1892; Holland, 1870; Italy, 1889; I should remark here that the re-introduction of the death penalty in Italy only applies to political crime, and not to civil crime. I resume the list: Lithuania, 1922; Norway, 1905; Portugal, 1867; Rumania, 1864; Sweden, 1921; Argentine, 1922; Brazil, 1891; Columbia, 1910. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Russia?"] I hope hon. Members will not interrupt in that way. I am trying to treat the matter seriously.

Then we have in our own Dominions, 1922. There are also the Queensland, following German States, Saxony, Hesse, Thuringia, Brunswick and the Free City of Hamburg. There is at present a Bill going through the Parliament of the Reich to abolish the death sentence for the whole of Germany and it was provisionally decided to abolish it as from 31st October of this year in Germany. In the United States eight States have abolished the death penalty, namely, Michigan, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Maine, Kansas, Minnesota and North and South Dakota. It has been said that France abolished the death penalty and had to re-introduce it, but that is not a correct statement of the history of the penal code in France.

The death penalty has never been abolished in France. It is not claimed that the statistics show that the murder ratio per thousand of the population has decreased in the countries where the death penalty has been abolished—though there are statistics to show that in certain cases, notably in America, it has done so. It is claimed however that where the death penalty has been abolished the murder ratio has not increased. Over the whole world there has been, happily, a reduction in the number of murders per thousand of the population. That is general, of course, and is due to the advancement of education and civilisation. But there is no evidence to show that when the death penalty is abolished the ratio of murders increases.

The first argument which I would put forward in favour of this Bill is that there is always the chance of a mistake in a trial. There is the recent case known as the Oscar Slater case and, undoubtedly, men have been hanged who were innocent of the charge made against them. There is always the chance of some evidence coming to light which may eventually prove an accused man to be innocent, but once you have hanged a man that is the end of the matter. I suggest that it is better that 100 guilty men should escape the gallows—to undergo the greater punishment of penal servitude for life—rather than that one innocent man should be judicially murdered. I ask hon. Members are they in favour of hanging women? Are they in favour of the death penalty being applied to women? I think, generally, people are not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why!"] Because sentiment is against it, chivalry is against it, human instinct is against it. I think the existence of that sentiment will be admitted. I may be reminded that women now claim equal rights with men. Then if it is repugnant to execute a woman, it is equally repugnant to execute a man.

I would remind the House that whenever the death penalty has been relaxed, whenever it has been proposed to do away with the death penalty for such offences as sheep stealing, burglary and forgery, there has always been the argument "No property will be safe; there will be no more law and order; there will be no deterrent to prevent people from stealing and forging and burgling." But I ask hon. Members, before they vote against the Bill—though they may say that it is only just, and that you must have the old Mosaic law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"—would they themselves, be prepared, willingly, if called upon, to do so as a duty, to carry out the penalty of hanging? Would any hon. Member be willing to act to-morrow morning as a hangman? Everyone in this House and 999 people out of a thousand would shrink with horror from the idea of having to put to death a fellow creature, even with all the majesty of the law and everything else behind the act. We ought not to ask a fellow-citizen to perform a duty from which we ourselves recoil with horror. For these reasons, which I hope I have put concretely, and without attempting to play on the feelings which we all hold individually, I beg leave to introduce the Bill.


I had not intended to intervene in this discussion, but I hope the House will refuse the hon. and gallant Member permission to bring in his Bill. The opponents of capital punishment, which naturally we all loathe, argue that we support capital punishment under the old Mosaic doctrine of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and from feelings of revenge. They ignore entirely the real reason why we adhere to capital punishment, and that is because it is a deterrent to any man who may contemplate committing murder. I cannot conceive how those who oppose capital punishment can adhere to their views when they see the strenuous efforts which are made both by condemned persons and by their friends to try to secure an abrogation of the capital sentence after it has been passed. If capital punishment he no deterrent, why are such efforts made in the Court of Criminal Appeal, and afterwards in appeals for a reprieve, to try to secure that the sentence should be commuted to one of penal servitude for life? I hope that so long as we have old men and women who are not able to protect themselves, and little boys and girls who may be sent on an errand in the evening, and so long as we see occasionally, fortunately not often, but still far too often, this vile crime carried out, that we shall see to it that we have at least no weakening of our code of criminal law. We ought to retain every possible deterrent which will keep men who may contemplate such a crime from carrying it into effect.

Question put: "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the abolition of Capital Punishment."

The House divided: Ayes, 119; Noes, 118.

Division No. 23.] AYES. [3.54 p.m.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hardie, George D. Salter, Dr. Alfred
Baker, Walter Harris, Percy A. Scrymgeour, E.
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley) Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Barnes, A. Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Barr, J. Hirst, G. H. Shinwell, E.
Batey, Joseph Hlrst, W. (Bradford, South) Smillie, Robert
Beckett, John (Gateshead) Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Snell, Harry
Bellamy, A. John, William (Rhondda, West) Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Benn, Wedgwood Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Stamford, T. W.
Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish- Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Stephen. Campbell
Bondfield, Margaret Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Boothby, R. J. G. Kelly, W. T. Strauss, E. A.
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Kennedy, T. Sullivan. J.
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Kirkwood, D. Sutton, J. E.
Buchanan, G. Lansbury, George Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Buckingham, Sir H. Lawrence, Susan Thurtle, Ernest
Baxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Lumley, L. R. Tomlinson, R. P.
Cape, Thomas Lunn, William Townend, A. E
Cluse, W. S. Mac Donald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon) Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Mackinder, W. Viant, S. P.
Compton, Joseph Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) Wallhead, Richard C.
Connolly, M. Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Cooper, A. Duff MacNeill-Weir. L. Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Dalton, Hugh Malone, C. L' Estrange (N'thampton) Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) March, S. Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah
Dunnico, H. Maxton, James Wellock, Wilfred
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Mitchell, E. Rosslyn (Paisley) Welsh, J. C.
Gardner, J. P. Montague, Frederick Westwood, J.
Gibbins, Joseph Morris, R. H. Whiteley, W.
Gosling, Harry Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Grace, John Mosley, Sir Oswald Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Murnin, H. Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.) Palin, John Henry Williams. Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Paling, W. Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Windsor, Walter
Griffith, F. Kingsley Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Potts, John S.
Grundy, T. W. Purcell, A. A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy and
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Riley, Ben Sir Robert Newman.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen, Sir Aylmer
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Dean, Arthur Wellesley Hurd, Percy A.
Apsley, Lord Eden, Captain Anthony Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Edmondson, Major A. J. Iliffe. Sir Edward M.
Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.) Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South) James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Everard, W. Lindsay Lamb, J. O.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Fanshawe, Captain G. D. Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Forestler-Walker, Sir L. Loder, J. de V.
Braithwaite Major A. N. Forrest, W. Long, Major Eric
Brass, Captain W. Gadie Lieut.-Col. Anthony Looker, Herbert William
Brittain, Sir Harry Ganzoni, Sir John Lowe, Sir Francis William
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Gauit, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Lynn, Sir R. J.
Brooke, Brigadier-General C R. I. Gunston, Captain D. W. MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen
Bullock, Captain M. Hacking, Douglas H. MacIntyre, Ian
Burman, J. B. Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-
Carver, Major W. H. Hamilton, Sir George Marriott, Sir J. A. R.
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.) Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Nelson, Sir Frank
Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)
Christie, J. A. Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley) Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert
Cobb, Sir Cyril Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian Oman, Sir Charles William C.
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William
Colfox, Major William Phillips Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. Penny. Frederick George
Cope, Major Sir William Hilton, Cecll Perring, Sir William George
Couper, J. B. Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.) Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar) Pilcher, G.
Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro) Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Power, Sir John Cecil
Curzon, Captain Viscount Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K. Pownall, Sir Assheton
Davies, Dr. Vernon Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiteh'n) Preston, Sir Walter (Cheltenham)
Preston, William Stanley, Lord (Fylde) Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Price, Major C. W. M Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)
Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y) Streatfeild, Captain S. R. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser Womersley, W. J.
Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Tasker, R. Inigo. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Sandeman, N. Stewart Templeton, W. P. Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Sanders, sir Robert A. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of Wright, Brig.-General W. D.
Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W.) Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down) Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on Hull) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Skelton, A. N. Warrender, Sir Victor Mr. Radford and Colonel Wood-cock.
Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam) Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Watts, Sir Thomas

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy, Mr. Morgan Jones, Mr. Morris, Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, Mr. Dunnico, Mr. Barr, Mr. T. P. O'Connor, Mr. Hayes, and Sir Robert Newman.