HC Deb 01 August 1940 vol 363 cc1407-48

Lords Amendment: In page 2, line 22, at the end, to insert: so, however, that provision shall be made for such proceedings being reviewed by not less than three persons who hold or have held high judicial office, in all cases in which sentence of death is passed, and in such other circumstances as may be provided by the Regulations.

3.55 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir John Anderson)

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that after some discussion during the Committee stage of the Bill, the Government agreed to accept an Amendment which stood in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) for the purpose of opening the way to the inclusion in the Bill of such a provision as we now have to consider. It was arranged on that occasion that consultation should take place between my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, myself, and Members in various quarters of the House who had expressed views about the provisions of the Bill before the Amendment to which I have referred was introduced. Those consultations took place, and I should like to express my appreciation of the helpful spirit in which those Members consulted with my right hon. and learned Friend and me and without exception addressed themselves to the task. In the result we were able to arrive at a form of words which was considered generally satis- factory. That form has been adopted in another place and inserted in the Bill with only one change, to which I think no exception will be taken. It was proposed in the Amendment which had been discussed informally that the reviewing tribunal should consist of not less than two persons. In the form in which the Amendment is now on the Paper it is "not less than three persons." That change was made to deal with the contingency of a possible disagreement and to avoid what it was felt on further consideration would be an undesirable complication in the Regulations.

On the merits of the Amendment, I should like to point out that it would have been easy, in endeavouring to find safeguards against possible mistakes on the part of these war-zone tribunals, to come to a point of elaboration which would have so complicated the procedure of the judicial system to be set up under the Bill as to defeat the whole object of the Bill by throwing the authorities back, in the conditions of emergency which we have to contemplate, upon the drastic processes implicit in a state of martial law. That is what we were most anxious to avoid. I think we have succeeded in avoiding that difficulty by having recourse to a procedure which, though it is entirely novel in this country, appears likely to meet with general acceptance in the special circumstances of the case. Under the proposed Amendment all death sentences will be automatically referred to the reviewing tribunal. It is further provided that in such other cases as may be provided by the Regulations, the tribunal shall make reviews. I know that it is felt in certain quarters that there should be some assurance that in suitable cases, other than cases in which the death sentence has been imposed, there should be this review for which we are making provision. The intention of the Government is that that matter should be provided for by Regulation.

I want to say, definitely, to the House that in submitting, as we have undertaken to do, draft Regulations for informal discussion between representatives of the Government and certain hon. Members, we shall not put forward in this matter anything which represents a cut-and-dried proposal. I have an entirely open mind on the subject. I am clear that we ought to make provision for the review, in suitable circumstances, of cases in which there are sentences less than the death sentence. It is a little difficult to determine the best test to apply or the best procedure. One suggestion which has been made is that it should be dependent on the length of the sentence. That has its attractions. On the other hand, I do not think that, in itself, it would be a highly satisfactory criterion. There may be cases in which the sentence is comparatively light, but in which, from the point of view of the convicted person, a review is a matter of great importance. I suggest, therefore, to my hon. Friends in all quarters of the House that the best course would be for us to get together to see how we can best achieve what, I think, we are all agreed upon as desirable.

4.3 p.m.

Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)

I think we may, without reserve, extend our congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on the wisdom which he has displayed in formulating this Amendment. At the same time we may congratulate ourselves on our part in having brought about this desirable state of affairs. It is largely due to the activities of hon. Members that we have reached the favourable conclusion represented by this Amendment, and I am bound to say that, listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon, one hardly recognised him as the Minister who spoke in our discussion a few days ago. This afternoon he spoke with a breadth of vision and a humanity which were certainly foreign to his contributions to our previous Debate. However, it is not for us to complain and we would rather see the right hon. Gentleman in his present guise than in the robes which he wore when we were debating this matter last week.

I think this Amendment will meet the views expressed by hon. Members. It represents precisely what we asked for in the previous Debate, and I need not waste any words upon it. I should, however, like to point out that the smooth working of this Measure will depend very largely on the Regulations which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to formulate. He has made specific provision in the Amendment, as we note, for the review of death sentences. That review will be automatic. So far, so good. But in the case of sentences to long terms of imprisonment, sentences maybe of 15 or 20 years penal servitude, it appears to me, and apparently it also appears to the right hon. Gentleman, that some review is required. While it may not be possible to provide in the Measure itself for such a review, we should be glad to avail of the opportunity which the right hon. Gentleman is to afford us of discussing the matter with him, so that such a provision may be embodied in the Regulations. We are engaged on a great experiment. We have never had occasion to operate such a Measure in the past, and it may well be that there will be no need to operate it in the future—certainly we all hope that may be so. But, if we are called upon to experiment in this way, we must exercise the greatest caution. Mistakes may be made. In the very nature of the case that must be so. In a situation such as is envisaged by these proposals, there is bound to be confusion and in such circumstances one sees the possibility of blunders being made, even by those in authority. Therefore, in framing the Regulations, we must provide all possible safeguards. We must seek to prevent, as far as is practicable, the possibility of mistakes.

There is one other point to which I invite the attention of the House, and particularly of the right hon. Gentleman. That is concerning the civil courts themselves. It has been proposed that these courts should each consist of a person of judicial authority and knowledge sitting with two other persons, who may be described as assessors. The proposition which I put to the right hon. Gentleman—I ask for no answer now on the point—is that he should consider the appointment occasionally of a woman assessor, to deal with certain types of cases. Cases may arise from time to time in which women will be concerned and the desirability, in such cases, of a woman assessor is obvious, not necessarily to act in a judicial capacity, but to be there for the purpose of advising the presiding judge. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give that matter his consideration. Further comment on my part is unnecessary. We have secured from the right hon. Gentleman a response which, I think, meets the general view. It is a great pity that we should have wasted so many minutes—

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)

Not wasted.

Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)

Better say "spent."

Mr. Shinwell

If hon. Members prefer that I should put it that way, I will do so. It is a great pity that we should have spent so many minutes, and indeed hours, on a protracted and often acrimonious discussion when a little less obduracy on the part of the right hon. Gentleman would have enabled us to achieve the object much more quickly. However, "all's well that ends well," and, in the circumstances, I am happy to support the right hon. Gentleman's Motion that the House should agree with this Amendment.

4.10 p.m.

Colonel Gretton (Burton)

I wish to say a few sentences as one who took some interest in this Bill when it was passing through the Committee stage. I think the Amendment which has been made in another place and the undertaking which has been given so frankly and fully by the Home Secretary to the House this afternoon will meet the case, and in my opinion, for what it is worth, this Amendment should be accepted. I have only one regret, and that, I am sure, my right hon. Friend will understand. It is that much more of what is intended should not be put into the Measure itself and that so much should be left to the Regulations. I think that is a bad practice. It is much better, in the public interest, that, as far as possible, the details of the intentions of Parliament should be stated on the face of a Statute and that it should not be necessary for those who have to deal with Statutes to refer to Regulations which may, in some cases, be amended subsequently either by another Statute or by amending Regulations. In this case, however, the right hon. Gentleman has, undoubtedly, fully redeemed the pledge given by him to the House, and I hope the House will accept the Amendment.

4.11 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I join with those who have spoken in thanking the Home Secretary, both for the words of this Amendment, which cover the main portion of what we desired to see inserted in the Bill, and also for the spirit of the speech in which he commended the Amendment to the House. We all appreciate the way in which he has met the views expressed by Members in all parts of the House. It shows that in these difficult times we have here a real working Parliamentary democracy, a Government working in harmony with Parliament and a Parliament making itself felt in the framing of legislation. We are grateful for the way in which the Home Secretary has guided us in this matter.

With regard to the Regulations, I share the view of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) as to the desirability of dealing with these matters, as far as possible, in the wording of the Act of Parliament itself instead of leaving them to Regulations which have to be framed in a Ministerial office and come before Parliament for consideration only at rare intervals. Yet I think the pledge given, in this case, by the Minister, his statement that he has an open mind as to these details and will take into consideration the various suggestions made to him, will in substance meet the points which we have in mind. With regard to the question of reviewing the longer sentences, I hope it will be possible for the reviewing tribunal, at least to consider in all such cases whether or not there should be a review. They would thus be in a position something like that of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which considers whether or not, in a particular case, it should grant leave to appeal. It would be a simpler method than imposing a review automatically in all cases. It would give the appeal tribunal an opportunity to consider in every case of a long sentence, whether or not that sentence should be reviewed. There are other cases of shorter sentences, which on legal or other grounds may call for review and I have no doubt the Home Secretary will be able to provide for them in the Regulations.

4.13 p.m.

Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)

I do not think it would be fair to say that the time spent by the House on the discussion of this Measure or the time given to it by the Home Secretary has been wasted. I think the House exercised a very proper function, having regard to the nature and importance of the Measure, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be the first to recognise the value of the advice and criticism which the House gave him, however forcefully they may have been put. I agree that the Amendment meets the wishes of those who are interested in the Bill, and as one who was privileged to meet the Home Secretary, in the discussions on this matter, I should like to say how much I appreciate his kindness and courtesy and the attention which he gave to what we had to say. As the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) has pointed out, the question for consideration now is what will be in the Regulations. I feel sure that if the Home Secretary is as anxious to take the views of those who are interested, in the framing of the Regulations, as he has been in the framing of the Bill, very little time will be required to get those Regulations through the House.

4.15 p.m.

Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)

Before I add my congratulations to those which have been expressed to the Home Secretary, there are two suggestions which I should like to make and one question which I wish to ask. I should like to know, first, whether the procedure under the Bill will come into operation automatically, or whether an Order-inCouncil or something of that sort will be necessary. When will the courts begin to function—when there is an actual emergency, or after some Order has been made?

Sir J. Anderson

If I may be permitted to do so, I can answer that now. The proposal is that all necessary steps should be taken forthwith to provide for such number of courts as is likely to be required, but that the actual coming into operation of any court should be dependent upon a declaration by the appropriate Minister of a state of emergency, in the terms of the Statute, in a particular area.

Major Milner

I think that clears up that point in a perfectly satisfactory manner. With regard to the constitution of the courts, it is provided that they are to be composed of persons of high judicial experience or persons of a similar character, and here I should like to make a suggestion. There is a great number of persons who occupy or have occupied high judicial office and also quite a number of members of the Bar, who may presumably fill these posts, who do not hold high judicial office, though many of them are equally as capable as His Majesty's Judges, if I may say so, of discharging these functions. I suggest that we should look rather widely in selecting persons to occupy these positions in preference to giving them to the same individuals time after time. One sees the same County Court Judges or Recorders presiding over conscientious objectors' tribunals and then over aliens tribunals, and so forth, and certain High Court Judges seem to be selected rather more frequently than others for these particular duties. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the Lord Chancellor—if he is to be consulted, as I imagine will be the case—will look rather widely to find the best type of men to fill these positions.

I should like to support whole-heartedly what the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) said as to the desirability, wherever possible, of putting all essential provisions into Acts of Parliament. I am well aware of the advantage of putting them into Regulations, from more points of view than one, but wherever possible I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who is bringing so many of these matters before us nowadays, will do all he can in the direction I have indicated. Having made these comments, I certainly extend my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman, and I think it is a matter of some importance that we have seen in this case—as indeed we have seen on more than one occasion—the very great advantage of having consultations with representative quarters of the House. That procedure has several advantages. It preserves national unity, which in the present circumstances we all desire to preserve, and I should think also that it relieves the right hon. Gentleman of a great many difficulties. He has onerous duties to perform now, and if matters can be decided by agreement I feel that must bring great relief to him, and I am glad to know that that practice will be followed in connection with these Regulations.

I wonder whether I may without impertinence add one further observation. Just as the House gives the right hon.

Gentleman the credit for doing what he thinks to be right in various matters, so I hope that he will give equal credit to those who have to take those matters into consideration. I am sure that the great majority of us in this House are determined on one thing, and that is to leave no stone unturned to ensure the effective prosecution of the war, but we are equally determined to preserve the democratic practice and procedure of this House and its over-riding authority.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Lewis (Colchester)

I feel that this Amendment makes a very great improvement in the Bill, and if, as I gather, many other Members share that view, I suggest this consideration to them: Is not what has happened in this case a very good illustration of the folly of trying to rush legislation through this House without adequate consideration? If the Government had had their way, this Bill would have been passed through all its stages in one day, and this Amendment would never have been added to the Bill. No doubt at the beginning of the war a very strong case could be made out for passing legislation without adequate discussion. I think that time has passed, and I have been sorry to note a tendency on the part of the Government to continue the process. I hope that what has happened on this Bill will encourage Members in all parts of the House to resist any tendency on the part of the Government to bring in suddenly an important Bill and say, "This is urgent; there is no time to discuss it; we must have it." The time for that has passed, and this Bill provides a very good illustration of the unwisdom of such action.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)

As one who took part in the Debates on this Bill I also wish to express my satisfaction, to some extent, with what has been done. I have already told the Home Secretary that I should have liked him to go a little further than he has gone, but I could not expect to get all I want in this wicked world—or in this wicked House, as an hon. Friend remarks. The power of review which is exercised by Parliament has been shown clearly in this case, and I should like to suggest to the Home Secretary that in all these matters he should see that his good Scottish common sense gets full scope. I have noted that certain sections in the House have wished at times to rush him in one direction on one day and in the opposite direction the next day, and I hope that he will exercise his common sense and discretion in the difficult times through which we are passing—that he will display the same common sense as he has shown in accepting this Amendment in dealing with other difficult problems which come before him.

4.23 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

If my gratitude to the Home Secretary is not as fulsomely expressed as that of some hon. Members this afternoon, I am none the less sincerely glad that this Amendment is to be embodied in the Bill. It is not often that I agree with the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis), but I feel that when he warned the Government against attempting to rush legislation so quickly through the House, he was uttering a warning that was needed at this time. The Home Secretary brought this Bill to the House and attempted to get it through all its stages in a single evening, and if the House had acquiesced in that action we should not have got even the small improvement in this Bill which we have now secured. I agree with the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) and others that a great deal depends upon what goes into the Regulations, and I can assure the Home Secretary that the House will watch the Regulations with some care, because frankly there has grown up recently a suspicion that the Executive is attempting to take more power than it needs to take even in this time of dire peril. This Bill is a good example of the Executive attempting to take to itself more authority than it should take. Although the Home Secretary has met us in a full and frank way, we must still remember that he would not have done so had the House not forced him to do it. Therefore, although we are grateful to him for meeting us and keeping his word to us, nevertheless we have to realise that what thanks are due are due to the House as a whole and not to the Government. It seems to me a pity that in these modern times, when to most people the House of Lords has become a body of very little use, democracy should have to look to the House of Lords to help it to safeguard its liberties.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member has no right to criticise another place in that manner.

Mr. Hall

I, of course, bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and will content myself by saying that it is a fact that this improvement, the one improvement we have managed to make in this Bill, has been made in another place.

Mr. Shinwell

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I do so to remind him and other hon. Members that this Amendment did not wholly originate in another place. It was the result of discussions in which many hon. Members here participated.

Mr. Hall

I do not wish to pursue the matter further. I was going on to say, when I was interrupted, that it is my view that had we not persuaded the Home Secretary to meet us in this matter it is more than likely that in another place this or a similar Amendment would have been inserted in the Bill. I base that view on the fact that 20 years ago, when another war was in progress, it was the Members of the other place who insisted upon safeguards going into similar Measures when they were being passed into law. With those observations I should like to say that I agree with what other Members have said in expressing thanks to the Home Secretary for implementing his promise; and I would finally express the hope that this Measure, bad as it is, will not have to be used in the emergency in which we now are.

Captain W. T. Shaw (Forfar)

Could the Home Secretary tell us when we may expect the Regulations mentioned in this Amendment? Shall we have them before the Recess?

4.28 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

That is a difficult question to answer. I am asked whether Regulations will be tabled before some date of which I have no knowledge whatever. The first draft of the Regulations is expected from the printers to-day, and I hope that no time will be lost in entering upon the consultations which have been promised, and I hope that the Regulations will be passed in the course of next week.

Mr. De la Bère (Evesham)

May I congratulate the right hon. and gallant Mem- ber for Burton (Colonel Gretton) upon the very fine work he has done on this Bill? I think the whole House will feel very grateful to him for all that he has done.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to