HC Deb 21 June 1951 vol 489 cc686-7
11. Mr. Gammans

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware of the number of recent cases of ill treatment and neglect of small children and of the growing feeling that the penalties provided by existing legislation are inadequate; and what action he now proposes to take.

Mr. Ede

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) on 22nd February.

Mr. Gammans

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise how strong the feeling in the country is about repeated revolting cruelties to children? Does he realise that his previous reply gave an impression, rightly or wrongly, that he is complacent about it?

Mr. Ede

I am not complacent about the matter. I welcome the much heavier sentences which I have seen passed in some recent cases, but the magistrates must be left some discretion to discriminate between the various cases in accordance with the evidence which they hear in the courts.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson

What recommendations have been made to the right hon. Gentleman with regard to action in cases of cruelty or neglect of children in their own homes?

Mr. Ede

Most of the cases to which I have been alluding, and which I believe the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) had in mind, are cases where the cruelty has been inflicted by the parents on children, and my reply to the supplementary question was intended to deal with precisely that class of case.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Is the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman that it is up to the magistrates to employ to the full the powers which they already have? If that is so, will he bear in mind that the standard by which the magistrates judge is set by the maximum penalty to be inflicted and that the maximum is imposed in only the very worst cases? Ought not the maximum to be increased to enable heavier sentences to be imposed in other cases?

Mr. Ede

I have frequently told the House the maximum sentence which can be inflicted on indictment, and I think it is adequate to cover this class of case.