§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Major Gwilym Lloyd-George)
I beg to move,That this House is of opinion that, while the death penalty should be retained, the law relating to the crime of murder should be amended.Although it is only just about a year since the House debated this important subject, I do not think that anyone would object to the fact that it is being debated again today. The numbers concerned in this matter are, of course, few compared with the millions whose welfare is discussed from time to time in this House, whether it be in domestic or foreign affairs, but we all recognise that the questions of principle and conscience involved are of fundamental importance.
In taking life, the State performs> its most solemn function; solemn not only because taking life must always be a terrible thing, and not least when it is done deliberately under the law, and with all the solemnity that the law confers; but solemn also because, in executing the capital sentence, the State pronounces the moral judgment of society on murder. In what circumstance, if any, society is justified in exacting the extreme and irrevocable penalty is a problem which rightly exercises the minds and consciences of civilised and responsible people everywhere. It is something which exercises the conscience of everyone of us. I have no doubt that our discussions today will match the gravity and importance of the occasion.
This, as I have said, is a matter of conscience, and for that reason the Government thought it right that there should be a free vote. But I beg hon. Members, when they consult their consciences, to remember that they are not here as private individuals; they have an inescapable responsibility as well to the public. The House and the Governments it sustains are responsible for the safety, order and well-being of the country, and in remembering our responsibility for the murderer we must not forget our responsibility for the law-abiding citizen.
There are those who believe that it is wrong to take life in any circumstance, 2537 either in war or in peace. That is a view that I respect, and for those who hold it the way is clear. For the rest of us it is not so clear, for we must wrestle with arguments on one side and another. I hope that those who take their stand on moral absolutes will believe that we are no less conscientious in our approach to the problem than they.
No one who has any close responsibility for capital punishment wants to retain it for its own sake. There can be no Home Secretary, and no one among his advisers, who would not be thankful to be relieved of the terrible burden which the existence of capital punishment lays upon them. It is untrue—indeed, it is unfair—to suggest, as I have heard it suggested, that the Home Office is devoted to capital punishment and perverts every Home Secretary who goes there. The question whether capital punishment is retained or abolished is a matter of Government policy, to be decided not by the Home Secretary, but by the Cabinet, and the final decision, of course, rests with Parliament.
The decision in individual cases, of course, is for the Home Secretary alone. His conscience, and his conscience alone, is responsible. My personal experience —I have no doubt that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), from his own experience, will confirm what I say—has been that my advisers do everything they possibly can to find reasons which will justify me in recommending a reprieve. Whatever a man's views may have been when he became Home Secretary, he has to face—and I suggest that this House must face—the whole of his reponsibilities. The first among them is responsibility for the peace and security of the public.
The Government are asking the House to consider the straight issue of retention or abolition—that, I think, is the only issue—and they have themselves reached the conclusion, after long and anxious consideration, that capital punishment should be retained. That is the view which I shall urge the House to adopt.
It may be of assistance if I start by discussing the principal arguments on either side. I believe that it is incumbent upon those who would abolish capital punishment to show that a change in the law would be beneficial. The Government, 2538 at any rate, are bound to start from the assumption that in a matter of this kind the law ought not to be changed unless it can be clearly shown that there is good reason for the changing and that that change would not prejudice the safety or well-being of the public. The Government's first and fundamental duty is to maintain law and order.
The most important argument in favour of the abolition of capital punishment is that there is no clear proof that capita] punishment is an effective deterrent. We are greatly indebted on this, as we are on many other points, to the careful study made by a Royal Commission. The Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, considered in great detail whether there was evidence that capital punishment was an effective deterrent. Since the Commission's survey was based on experience abroad, I must point out that the Royal Commission was careful to emphasise that difference in law, custom and statistical method made strict comparison between one country and another impossible.
Indeed, in paragraph 61 the Commission said thatany comparison between Great Britain and most of these countries"— that is, abolitionist countries"—with the exception of Belgium, is vitiated by the differences in social and industrial conditions and in density of population.We should not, therefore, assume that what was held good in foreign countries will necessarily hold good in this country.
I apologise if my speech is of some length, but I feel that it is necessary that I should traverse the whole of the ground. Later, I will read one or two extracts from the Report of the Royal Commission, because they seem to me to sum up the principal argument in favour of abolition, namely, the absence of clear proof of the deterrent effect of capital punishment.
First, in paragraph 65, with which, I have no doubt, hon. Members are already familiar, the Royal Commission said: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 a fall.Secondly, in paragraph 64, comparing States in the United States of America which have abolished the death penalty 2539 with those which have not, the Commission says:the only conclusion which can be drawn from these figures is that there is no clear evidence of any influence of the death penalty on the homicide rates of these States.It is, however, important not to read too much into those statements. Their significance was carefully defined by the Commission itself, in paragraph 67, which says:The negative conclusion we draw from the figures does not of course imply a conclusion that the deterrent effect of the death penalty cannot be greater than that of any other punishment. It means only that the figures afford no reliable evidence one way or the other.That is what the Commission said, and it is important not to misrepresent its views. The Commission did not say that capital punishment was not a uniquely effective deterrent. Indeed, in some respects the Commission thought it was. What the Commission said was simply that the figures providedno reliable evidence one way or the other.There are, I think, three reasons for the lack of reliable statistical evidence. The first, and an important one, is that, surprising though it may seem, few countries keep what for this purpose are the really relevant figures, namely, the number of crimes known to the police as distinct from the number of convictions. It is extraordinary how few countries keep those figures. The second is that in many countries capital punishment fell into disuse a considerable time before it was formally abolished. How, when this happens, can one find a valid basis for a statistical comparison of affairs before and after abolition? At what point in those circumstances could a potential murderer say," I shall not be executed"?
The third reason is that, to quote the Royal Commission… it is impossible to be sure that variations in homicide statistics before and after the abolition of capital punishment are, in fact, due to abolition, or that, if the figures remain constant, abolition did not have some effect which was cancelled out by some other cause.I ask the House to pay particular attention to that statement. It is of the greatest importance in relation to the argument that because in a number of countries where the death penalty has been abolished there has not been an increase in murder, the death penalty, therefore, makes no difference.
2540 There is no statistical foundation whatever for that contention. In any complex society many influences are at work and any change or even an apparent absence of change is the product of a number of different and sometimes conflicting forces. Whether the homicide rate goes up or down after abolition, there is no means of isolating that one factor from others.
When, therefore, the Royal Commission said:… there is no clear evidence that the abolition of capital punishment has led to an increase in the homicide rate …the Commission should not be taken to mean "and, therefore, it has not led to an increase." The Commission meant precisely what it said—that there is no evidence; statistics are incapable of providing evidence one way or another.
We are left, then, in this position. There is no statistical evidence that abolition does or does not lead to more murder. The abolitionist case, as I understand it, is that since the death penalty cannot be proved by statistics to be a uniquely effective deterrent therefore it is not a uniquely effective deterrent. Personally, I do not believe that what cannot be proved by statistics cannot be true. I shall revert to this matter later.
An argument against capital punishment which has assumed some prominence recently is the argument that there is a risk of an innocent man being hanged. No human institution, it is said, is infallible—a mistake may be made. This, as an abstract proposition, is no doubt true, but let us consider how many institutions, before an innocent man is hanged, must make not only a mistake but the same mistake. The police, the judge, the Court of Criminal Appeal, the Home Secretary—all, though anxiously searching for the truth, have to fall into error.
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
Is not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman committing himself, as Home Secretary, to what might be a judicial shortcoming by the words which he has just uttered? The point should not be accepted by anybody as a judicial point unless it is submitted in those terms. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot argue on the Floor of the House on the basis of the absence of a condition as a course for proceeding on a line himself.
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich)
The Home Secretary has suggested that a whole series of processes fail to reveal an error in the original indictment. Among them he puts the Count of Criminal Appeal. Is he suggesting that the Court of Criminal Appeal customarily retries cases submitted on appeal?
§ Major Lloyd-George
I am not complaining, but I am afraid that the hon. Member has not got the point. I am simply saying that all these various institutions have not only to make a mistake but the same mistake. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The Home Secretary has not only to fall into error but to be unaware that on the vital point the possibility of error exists, for if, in a capital case, there is a scintilla of doubt it is the invariable practice—and I repeat that it is invariable—to recommend a reprieve.
It is here—and this is a very important point—that a capital case differs fundamentally from all the others. In a capital case it is the Home Secretary's duty to review all the evidence, if necessary in consultation with the judge who conducted the trial, and if he is in any doubt at all, he can cause further inquiries to be made.
It is suggested—and I know that this is in the minds of many people—that if, in a recent case, the policeman who had been attacked had died, three innocent men would have hanged. [An HON. MEMBER: "Undoubtedly."] It is not "undoubtedly." This is a very important point, illustrating the difference between capital and ordinary cases. In the first place, it is doubtful whether the men would have been convicted. The evidence of the principal witness as to identity, the constable himself, would not have been available or would only have been available in the form of a dying deposition.
Faced with a capital charge, the defence might well have been different and that, if I may say so, is a slight understatement. But if there had been a conviction, which I personally very much doubt, I do not believe that it would have been thought safe by any Home Secretary to allow the sentence to be fulfilled, and—I say this advisedly— I personally would have recommended a commutation of the death sentence.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Barons Court)
It was I, among others, who took an interest in this case and it was I, among 2542 others, who said that and my report was published. Does the Home Secretary say that if, in fact, there had been a conviction there would have been from that moment onwards a scintilla of evidence upon which that conviction could have been reversed? Nobody would have admitted that he had been concerned in the offence if these men had been convicted of murder, as later two men did admit, and these men would have been hanged.
§ Major Lloyd-George
The hon. Member has got it wrong. The main witness to the identification, the only person who saw them face to face, was the constable —and I have gone into the case with very great care, therefore, that man would not have been available as the principal witness for identification purposes. Another point is that there would have been enough doubt about other identification. I say with all the authority of my office that I am absolutely certain, as far as I am concerned, that they would not have been executed.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I will tell the hon. Gentleman something about policemen, too. The hon. Gentleman anticipates so much that I hope that he does not anticipate all of it.
It has been suggested that these men would have been allowed to hang, apparently whether or not their guilt was in doubt—and I saw this in an article in a newspaper, I regret to say—because"people who kill policemen are not reprieved. "This not only shows ignorance, but is a gross and unwarranted reflection on the manner in which capital cases are considered; and, as it happens, it is not even true.
During the present century, fifteen people have been sentenced to death for murdering a policeman and four of them have been reprieved. I go further—I do not believe that in recent times there is any case in which an innocent man has been hanged. I say that advisedly and I say it after full consideration of the cases of Rowland and Evans. I have read many of the books which have been written about those cases, and a good many of them are open to the charge of serious inaccuracy, as I happen to know. I say again advisedly, and from this Box, 2543 that I do not believe that in recent times any innocent man has been hanged in this country.
Let me turn to the arguments which have lead the Government to the conclusion that capital punishment should be retained. First, let me say emphatically that I believe capital punishment to be justified only if it is likely to reduce the amount of murder. If there is reason to think that without it there might be more murder, then I think that it should be retained; and I am not shaken in that view by the fact that capital punishment causes suffering, both to the condemned man and to others.
Murder causes suffering, and I see neither sense nor humanity in risking an increase of suffering by innocent victims and their families in order to reduce the suffering of murderers and theirs. The Royal Commision found that the statistics provided no reliable evidence as to whether capital punishment is or is not a uniquely effective deterrent. But statistics do not seem to me to conclude the matter. Not all human reactions can be measured by statistics, and statistics of crime have little to say about the deep-seated beliefs that govern the conduct of those who refrain from crime.
The first function of capital punishment is to give emphatic expression to society's peculiar abhorrence of murder. It is because murder is the crime of crimes and taking life is to be sharply distinguished from taking property that there is reserved for it the supreme and unique penalty of death. This is not the law of an eye for an eye: it is the reservation of the gravest punishment for the gravest crime. It is important that murder should be regarded with peculiar horror—that horror is in itself a powerful psychological barrier against killing.
The Royal Commission, in paragraph 59, said: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 longer 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.'This widely diffused effect on the moral consciousness of society is impossible to assess, but it must be at least as important as any direct part which the death penalty may play 2544 as a deterrent in the calculations of potential murderers. It is likely to be specially potent in this country, where the punishment for lesser offences is much more lenient than in many other countries, and the death penalty stands out in the sharper contrast.At this particular point in the argument one commonly encounters references to the fact that death was once the penalty for stealing and did not apparently produce a peculiar abhorrence of theft. I think that this illustrates rather than demolishes my argument. The supreme penalty was not appropriate and was not regarded by the population at large as appropriate to theft. It is appropriate, and, I believe, is still generally regarded as appropriate, to the more terrible crime of murder. The fact that we now recognise that it is wrong to hang for petty theft does not prove that it is wrong to hang for murder.
Nor does the fact that hanging did not deter from theft at a time when there was no effective means of detection prove that hanging does not deter from murder now that there are effective means of detection. I believe that capital punishment does, in the present state of society, both express and sustain the sense of moral revulsion for murder. One cannot, of course, prove this influence statistically.
What of the second aspect of deterrence, that is, the operation of the fear of being hanged if one commits murder? Here, since statistics can give us no help, let us try common sense. To common sense it appears, I should have thought, obvious, that death is more feared than practically any other punishment. As Sir James Fitzjames Stephen put it.No other punishment deters men so effectually from committing crimes as the punishment of death. This is one of those propositions which it is difficult to prove, simply because they are in themselves more obvious than any proof can make them. It is possible to display ingenuity in arguing against it, but that is all.Many people are inclined to discount the effect of the fear of hanging, first, because less than half the people found guilty of murder are, in fact, hanged; and, secondly, because murder is commonly in this country the sudden, unpremeditated outcome of passion, rage or insanity; of a situation, that is, in which the murderer does not think or care whether he will hang or not. But is not that in itself highly significant? The effect of hanging as a deterrent is to be 2545 seen not in those who do commit murder, but in those who do not. Of this type there can be no statistics—of course, there cannot be—but the type of murderer who, in this country, is conspicuously rare is the professional criminal.
The Royal Commission found that the considered and unanimous view of those witnesses with most experience of criminals, namely, representatives of the police and of the prison service, was that the existence of the death penalty was the main reason why lethal violence was not more often used in this country and why criminals—this is very important—do not carry firearms or other weapons.
The professional criminal is prepared, apparently, to accept imprisonment as an occupational risk, but not hanging; and for the professional criminal, who could not plead insanity or mitigating circumstances, the risk of being hanged if he were caught would be considerable. The Royal Commission states:"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.The man who lives by large-scale crime is accustomed to assessing his risks. Suppose that the risk of hanging, if he kills in the course of crime, is removed. If a man with a bad record is convicted of robbery or breaking or burglary, he stands a good chance of imprisonment or of preventive detention up to fourteen years. Of course, he may in some circumstances get a life sentence. He would run little or no additional risk if he committed murder. What, then, is to deter him from shooting to avoid capture or to silence the only witness?
It is sometimes said that it would be necessary to deal with this situation by arming the police. The police themselves dislike the idea of being armed, because it would adversely affect the whole relationship between the police and the people. It would be exceedingly unfortunate if it became necessary to do such a thing. Nevertheless, in some areas, and at some times, they might have to be armed. But the arming of the police is not an answer to the problem. It does not touch the real problem at all.
2546 The way to keep the civil peace is not to have an arms race between police and criminals, but to ensure, as far as possible, that arms are not used at all. What comfort will armed police be to the watchman or householder who comes across a burglar and is shot before he can summon help? Or to the bystander who is shot in a battle between police and criminals? Or, indeed, I may add, to a murdered policeman or his widow? We are fortunate in this country that criminals are, in general, unarmed. We must not lightly forgo a deterrent that is likely to keep them so.
Here, I may perhaps refer, with due caution, to the interesting figures which the Royal Commission sets out in page 372 of its Report, in order to give a general idea of the prevalence of murder in various countries and States in Western Europe, the Commonwealth and the United States, some with and some without capital punishment. In England and Wales, in three decades from 1910 to 1939, the average number of murders per million of the population were 4.1, 3.9 and 3.3. In Scotland, the corresponding figures were 1.9, 2.9 and 2.6. The next lowest figures were those of Norway, namely, 5.4, 4.9 and 5. These exclude murders of babies, which our figures do not.
Elsewhere, the figures were higher and in some cases substantially so. The Royal Commission concludes:The murder rate in Great Britain is at least as low as the murder rate in any other of these countries.That is a triumph of understatement, because the figures for Great Britain are the lowest and when we see how low they are, we realise how high they are running in other countries—in some to over 200 per million.
This does not prove that capital punishment has a deterrent effect, but it affords additional evidence of the danger of relying on statistics in considering the problems of deterrence, since the effect of the abolition of capital punishment in countries with a comparatively high death rate cannot be regarded as a reliable indication of the probable effects of abolition in a country where murder is much less prevalent.
It may be that in this country murder has been narrowed down almost to that very small number of cases where no form of deterrent can operate. Those 2547 are the ones I referred to a short while ago. We cannot assume, however, that this happy state will continue if we remove the one deterrent which seems likely to operate effectively on those who do not now commit murder and are capable of being deterred. After a careful study of the Report of the Royal Commission, I am not able to conclude that capital punishment has no uniquely deterrent effect.
Now I turn to certain other considerations which the House should have in mind. First, the state of crime in the country. I ask the House to take note of the continuing increase in the number of crimes of violence against the person. First, the number of murders. Excluding murders of children under one year of age, the number of murders is about one-third above the pre-war figure, although I am glad to say that at present it shows no tendency to rise.
Secondly, other crimes of violence against the person. The number of these crimes known to the police in England and Wales is now about three times the number before the war, and there has been a continuing increase over the last few years. Too much should not be read into these figures, because part of the increase may be due to an improvement in enforcement or to a tendency to charge offences in more serious categories. However, despite the limitations of statistics it is clear that there has been some genuine increase in the most serious crimes of violence. The same is true of sexual offences. Indictable sexual offences against women have nearly trebled since before the war.
I am not asking the House to conclude that because crimes of violence and sexual crimes have apparently increased more than murders, the death penalty is a more effective deterrent than imprisonment. What the figures lead me to say is that, prima facie, a time when there are so many crimes against the person, and when these crimes are apparently on the increase, is not a time when capital punishment can safely be abolished.
If capital punishment were abolished, what would be the alternative? This is a question of vital importance which hon. Members must consider seriously. Any alternative to capital punishment must be 2548 as effective a deterrent as possible and must be acceptable to public opinion. In certain cases of murder the only possible alternative is a long and indefinite term of imprisonment.
What I think hon. Members do not realise is that it is rare at present that a reprieved murderer stays in prison more than nine years. That is the average time during which reprieved murderers stay in prison. [An HON. MEMBER: "Eighteen years."] I think that the average means the average. If the eighteen years were included, the average would be nine years and if the eighteen were not included it would be slightly below. There are only two serving more than ten years, one of eleven years and one of eighteen. The overall average is about nine years.
The Royal Commission agreed with the Prison Commissioners that the risk of deterioration, in the sense of such degeneration of the physical and mental powers as would make it impossible for the prisoner to lead a useful life after release, was not such as to preclude an occasional prisoner serving a term of fifteen or twenty years, though the Commission thought that the risk of the lesser deterioration known as"institutionalisa-tion"—I am sorry, that is a very long word—would have to be accepted. If capital punishment were abolished, there would be a number of prisoners who would have to be detained for the rest of their lives, or until they were so enfeebled as no longer to present a risk.
So far as I can tell, and the estimate is necessarily tentative, the number of murderers in prison would gradually increase to a maximum of about 250 more than at present. Of these, and again I admit that the estimate is tentative, at any given time there would be about 150 who could be released after period of up to twenty years, but the remaining 100, who might have to be detained for longer periods, some perhaps for the rest of their lives, or at any rate until old age, would have to be kept in conditions—and I ask the House to remember this—of maximum security, because of the danger that they would commit further offences if they escaped.
The Home Secretary has a duty to the public as well as to the murderer. This last group presents human problems which those who advocate abolition on the ground that capital punishment is 2549 cruel have never squarely faced. Many of the more violent and dangerous are in their 'twenties or early 'thirties. Imagine a young man faced with the possibility of thirty or forty years in prison. Imagine the hope of earlier release gradually fading at ten, fifteen and twenty years. A prison now provides worth-while work and spare time interests and occupations, but those are not a substitute for liberty and, above all, they are not a substitute for hope. It is largely hope that keeps a prisoner going and maintains his morale.
It is now the practice—of fairly recent growth—whenever possible to give a man who is serving a life sentence the date of his release a year in advance, so that a lively hope of freedom may help him over the last year. The absence of hope is a terrible thing. There are some people, the worst types of criminals, who would never know hope and might well have to be left in prison for the rest of their lives. That is the position which—I put it no higher—if it is a question of cruelty, the people who advocate abolition ought carefully to consider. I ask those who oppose capital punishment on humanitarian grounds to weigh the possible suffering of the alternative.
Releasing some of these men who would now be executed would not be very simple. It would involve considerable risk in some cases. It is true that only one murderer reprieved and released has committed a second murder, but murderers who are now reprieved and ultimately released are not, on the whole, of a type likely to kill again. The risk in releasing those now executed would be much greater and would be a risk very difficult to assess, because it does not follow that a man who learns to keep out of trouble in prison, will keep out of trouble when free. The Secretary of State would be pressed, and naturally pressed, as he is now, by relatives and by hon. Members to give men their freedom, and in a certain number of cases there would be a considerably greater risk of a repetition of murder than is now taken.
I have tried to summarise the main arguments for and against capital punishment. My conclusion and that of the Government is that, despite the abhorrence with which capital punishment is viewed by many sections of the community, the time has not yet come when the Government can with any confidence 2550 recommend to the House that capital punishment should be abolished.
Taking into account the almost certain deterrent effect of capital punishment in some cases, the need to deter criminals from carrying arms, the continuing increase in the number of crimes of violence against the person, the view of the Government is that it must be retained, although we shall, of course, continue to keep the whole problem under review and will take into account any changes of public opinion, as well as other factors. If the Government consider that capital punishment can safely be abolished, they will not hesitate to propose that course to Parliament. For the present, they consider that it must be retained.
In the last debate on this subject I was asked questions about certain recommendations of the Royal Commission. I remember at the time referring to the amendments which we are to propose to certain sections of the law and I referred to certain recommendations which the Royal Commission had made. Considerable thought has since been given to the problems—I promised it would be given —in the light of the views I have expressed. The Royal Commission put forward three major propositions: alteration of the statutory age limit; the giving of a discretion to the jury; the alteration of the M'Naghten Rules.
I will not go through them all again, but the House will remember that I discussed those proposals and the reason why the Government rejected them at considerable length. It would not be wise or fair to the House to go over them again. I say simply that the Government remain of the opinion that these proposals are unacceptable to them. The Royal Commission considered other ways of limiting the present scope of murder. It did not think it practicable to do it by trying to frame a definition of murder. It discussed at length the superficially attractive proposal that capital punishment should be reserved for the more heinous offences by defining degrees of murder, but it dismissed that as impracticable.
The Government agree that neither the definition of murder, nor an attempt to distinguish between different degrees of murder offers a useful line of approach. The Commission did, however, suggest 2551 three specific points at which the scope of murder might be reduced—the doctrine of constructive malice; the doctrine that words alone cannot, save in the most exceptional circumstances, constitute provocation sufficient to reduce murder to manslaughter; and the liability of the survivor of a suicide pact to be convicted of murder.
When I announced the Government's intention last year with regard to the major proposals, I reserved those recommendations for further consideration. The present scope of the doctrine of constructive malice is by no means clear. At its widest it means that a man is guilty of murder if he kills while committing a felony or resisting an officer of justice, even though he had no intention of killing and no reason to think that his action was likely to cause death or serious injury. The practice of the courts has whittled down that doctrine, but it can still produce the result that an act done while committing a felony or resisting an officer of justice may be murder, although, if done in other circumstances, it would be only manslaughter.
The Royal Commission recommended the abolition of this doctrine of constructive malice with the proviso that accomplices who condone it should be liable to be found guilty of murder, if the principal was so liable. The Government are agreed that the law on constructive malice is at present unsatisfactory, but they want to make sure that in doing what they propose to do they have not eliminated the deterrent against criminals carrying weapons.
On provocation, the Royal Commission recommended that it should be open to a jury to reduce murder to manslaughter on the ground of provocation by words alone. We are agreed that the law on this point should be amended.
On suicide pacts, at present, if two people agree to commit suicide and only one dies, the survivor is guilty of murder. If the survivor has made a genuine attempt to kill himself, it is the practice to recommend a reprieve. The Commission considered that if the survivor had himself killed the other party, he should be guilty of murder, as at present, but one who only aids, abets or instigates the suicide of the other person without killing him, should in future be guilty of that 2552 offence, and not of murder, and should be liable to life imprisonment.
The Government accept this recommendation and the legislation which we hope to introduce will deal- also with this point. The amendment on the law of the first of these points will not be easy, and I hope that the House will not expect the Government to commit themselves at this stage to the precise form that it will take.
Before leaving the three specific points to which I have referred, I wish to say a word about the position in Scotland. As the Royal Commission pointed out, the doctrine of constructive malice is not recognised in Scotland and attempted suicide is not a criminal offence. I am further advised that it is unlikely that it will be necessary to amend the law of provocation in Scotland. Of course, we shall be ready to consider any further points which may be made in the debate in relation to the laws of either country.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
These are important proposals and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is, of course, aware that the country has been profoundly disturbed by recent cases; the Evans case, the Bentley case, the Ruth Ellis case, and the case of misidentification. Would any of his proposals affect any of those cases?
§ Major Lloyd-George
No, I should not think so. I am speaking without knowledge. The hon. and learned Gentleman has given me five cases, though I should not have thought the last, the case of mis-identification, would have included any constructive malice. As I have said, and the hon. and learned Gentleman knows better than I, this doctrine of constructive malice is extremely complicated.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman should know the answer. It is that his proposals would not affect any of these cases.
§ Major Lloyd-George
Then why did the hon. and learned Gentleman take the trouble to get up and ask the question? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I must say to the hon. and learned Gentleman, with respect—I do not wish to inject any heat into the debate—that I wonder why he should get up and ask me a question and quote five different cases without giving 2553 me any warning at all, and then say that he can give me the answer. That sort of thing had happened before now and does not worry me.
The Government and the Commission have given much thought and consideration to the question of mental abnormality. The problem falls into two parts. The first question is how to identify insanity, that is the state in which the law imputes no responsibility at all to the offender. The second question is how to deal with persons who, though not insane, are sufficiently abnormal mentally to be regarded as less than fully responsible for their actions. First, let me say this. It is enshrined in our law that people who are certified insane cannot be hanged. People who are suffering from any degree of mental abnormality which reduces their moral culpability are reprieved. The greatest care is taken to inquire into this factor and in this the pratice of the Home Office is in harmony with the approach of the Royal Commission.
On the problem of legal insanity, the Government remain of the view that some formula is necessary for the guidance of juries. They recognise that the M'Naghten Rules are open to criticism, but so is every alternative that has been suggested. They prefer a definition whose operation is known and which, in practice, leads to little hardship or injustice, to one which may be equally imperfect and in practice less harmless.
There remains the question of whether anything can be done about the no man's land between the clearly sane and the clearly insane. It is here that the Scottish doctrine of diminished responsibility operates, I believe with success. The Royal Commission thought there were strong arguments for adopting this doctrine in England. It did not apprehend that a jury would find the issue too difficult or would take refuge in it unreasonably. The objection of the Commission was that if diminished responsibility were imported into English law, it ought to apply to all offences and not only to murder, and that such a radical change ought not to be made without examination by a committee appointed for that purpose.
It may be illogical to confine diminished responsibility to murder, but that objection does not seem to me to be conclusive. 2554 Murder is sui generis because the penalty is death. I am not clear that, were it thought right on other grounds to introduce a special defence of diminished responsibility in respect of murder, it would be wrong to do so without also introducing it in relation to quite different offences for which the penalty is not death.
This is not an easy question, but in view of the conclusions of the Royal Commission on the merits of adopting the Scottish doctrine, the Government consider that it should be closely studied. That does not mean that another committee will be appointed. The Government will themselves give it thorough consideration and if we conclude that something on these lines can be done, appropriate proposals will be put before the House. I have indicated some ways in which the Government think that the scope of the law of murder might be limited.
§ Mr. J. Paton
I am obliged to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way, but the point is of major importance. In the consideration now to be given to the possible adoption of the principle of diminished responsibility, does he envisage the abandonment of the Home Secretary's own medical inquiry?
§ Major Lloyd-George
No, certainly not. That would go on exactly the same. We should abandon nothing which would be of advantage in this case.
I was talking about some ways in which the Government think that the scope of law of murder might be limited. But the law must be drafted in terms or offences and not of individual offenders. However it is amended it will not of itself distinguish between those murderers who ought, while capital punishment is retained, to suffer death and those who ought not.
This, as the Royal Commission pointed out, is a matter for the exercise of discretion. The Government view is that discretion should continue to be exercised by means of the Royal Prerogative of mercy. The grounds on which the exercise of the Royal Prerogative is recommended in a particular case cannot be stated. In considering whether to recommend the exercise of the Prerogative I shall continue to bear in mind the principles which guide the Secretary of 2555 State. I shall give full weight to the points to which the Royal Commission drew attention as matters appropriate to be considered at this stage.
Most of them have been long considered. The Royal Commission raised certain points in connection with mental deficiency, epilepsy, and psycopathic personality, and all those matters will be taken into account. I cannot say that any one factor will be conclusive, but they will all be given due weight. However the law may be amended, while capital punishment is retained the Royal Prerogative will remain the most flexible instrument we have for distinguishing those murderers who ought not to suffer death from those who ought.
Though, as I have indicated, there are differences in the law between England and Scotland, the Prerogative of mercy is, and must continue to be, exercised in both countries on the same principles, and the Secretary of State for Scotland and I will search earnestly, as we have always done, for circumstances in each case which will justify us in making a recommendation. So long as capital punishment remains, the burden of mitigating its rigour within the law must, in my view, remain with the Secretary of State, and it is a burden which he must bear alone.
The Secretary of State is fortified by the long and accumulated experience of his Department; he may, and very often does, consult the trial judge and the medical experts, and he can consider information which is not evidence and therefore would not have come before the Court.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has no right to condemn a man to death on undisclosed statements which are confessedly not evidence.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I cannot possibly go into that now, but the hon. Gentleman has often stated it to me in writing. He should know that considerations which do not come to light in court can be absolutely vital to the Secretary of State in making a decision. The responsibility that rests upon the Secretary of State is grave and inescapable. The decision that the law must take its course is an anxious and, indeed, soul-searching one. No one who holds my office would want to retain capital punishment for its own sake, but. as I 2556 said at the beginning, after long and anxious consideration Her Majesty's Government feel that it is their duty to advise the House that capital punishment must be retained.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:believes that the death penalty for murder no longer accords with the needs or the true interests of a civilised society, and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce forthwith legislation for its abolition or for its suspension for an experimental period.About a year ago I followed the Home Secretary in a similar debate. On that occasion I made certain personal statements which it seemed to me I owed to the House in the line that I proposed to take. The House was very generous to me on that occasion. I hope that the particular incident is not out of the minds of hon. Members; I do not propose to say very much about it today.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has made a speech which, I am bound to say, I heard with increasingly heavy disappointment as he proceeded from point to point. We all have our pasts in this matter. When he voted against my advice in 1948, I wonder whether, if he had delivered the speech which he has delivered this afternoon, my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) would have carried his Amendment—for what we have really been told this afternoon is that there is to be no change at all.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) asked the right hon. and gallant Gentleman a question towards the end of his speech, and I put another question to him. I understand that the Lord Privy Seal is to reply to the debate. Although we were told—as the Motion itself indicates—that some alterations of the law were being contemplated, it appears that we are to have the benefit of an address not from the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General, but from the Lord Privy Seal. I hope that he will try to obtain an answer to this question: on the assumption that the broadest possible interpretation is given to the suggested amendments in the law, as mentioned by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, would there, 2557 during the past ten years, have been one less execution than, in fact, there has been?
For rather more than six years I was responsible at the Home Office. The alterations proposed in the law would not have led to a single alteration in any of the cases that came before me. What has shaken the country has been the fact that some executions have taken place which have appeared to shock not merely those who are swayed by the sensational Press, but also people who give very serious attention to what goes on and to things which are done in their name. I frankly confess that in the debate in 1948 I told the House that the Government believed thatthe time was not ripe for undertaking this particular reform.I went on to say:I am bound to say that in my conversations with people during the time since I spoke on the Second Reading of this Bill, on 27th November, I have found among ordinary working-class people—in which I include salary earners as well as wage earners—an increasing feeling that the time has not come for this reform to be made.But during a similar period I have not met a single person who, in the course of conversation, has said that he believes that the execution of Timothy Evans was justified by the facts subsequently revealed.
§ Mr. Ede
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman takes the contrary view—and he has said so. I am as entitled to my view as he is to his. I do not believe that after that case anyone—although the right hon. and gallant Gentleman got very near to it today—would repeat what was said by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe— now the Lord Chancellor—during the same debate, namely:As a realist I do not believe that the chances of error in a murder case, with these various instruments of the State present, constitute a factor which we must consider, any more than we must consider the danger of death in crossing a street.That danger has increased since 1948.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East then interrupted and said:Surely the right hon. and learned Member will agree that the important consideration is whether there is any possibility of its occurring so that an innocent man is put to death. Will 2558 the right hon. and learned Member say that there is no possibility at all of that? Surely that is relevant to this argument.Sir David Maxwell Fyfe replied:There is no practical possibility. The hon. and learned Member asked me to say that there is no possibility. Of course, a jury might go wrong, the court of Criminal Appeal might go wrong, as might the House of Lords and the Home Secretary: they might all be stricken mad and go wrong. But that is not a possibility which anyone can consider likely. The hon. and learned Member is moving in a realm of fantasy when he makes that suggestion. I support what my right hon. Friend said"—I think that the allusion was to the present Lord Waverley—that it is impossible for anyone who views and examines fairly the facts of any murder case of which he has knowledge to say that such a miscarriage of justice has taken place.That, after all, stretched back a long way into history and I do not think that one could give the full weight that one would like to give to those last words.
As the Home Secretary who was responsible when the Evans case had to be decided, I say that I do not believe that if, between the time the Court of Criminal Appeal gave its decision and the time when the man was hanged, there had been found on those premises those other bodies from which life had been taken by exactly the samemodus operandi as was used in the case of Mrs. Evans and her daughter—I do not believe that public opinion in this country would have allowed that execution to have taken place.
Recently, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has had the pluck to do what I once had to do, and for which I was badly criticised at the time—although I am glad that he has not been criticised in the same way. He has recently recommended a reprieve after deciding, a few days before, that the law must take its course. If a Home Secretary has to have second thoughts—and let me say that I appreciate the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's courage in having them—if he has to have second thoughts when he really has only four or five days in which to make up his mind, how dare we say that there is no possibility of error?
That is the sort of thing that troubles responsible public opinion. That public opinion was profoundly shocked by the Evans case, and I am bound to say that, great respect as I have for Mr. Scott Henderson as a lawyer, his report did not 2559 convince me—and I suppose that in this country I was then the person who would have most liked to have been convinced. Let me say just one or two words about the Evans case. It was a case that attracted no public attention while it was going on. I had no letters from Members of Parliament. There was no sensation in the Press. To bear out what the Home Secretary has said this afternoon, I should say, to the credit of the staff of the Home Office, that they did draw my attention to the fact that Evans had himself accused Christie while in the court, but that this wretched, feckless man Evans had made two confessions, one of which must be false. I believe that both were false. The whole surroundings of this case make that a quite feasible proposition.
That case, for which I have to take the final responsibility, has shocked public opinion out of the belief that was advanced by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman this afternoon that a mistake cannot be made. When I followed Sir David Maxwell Fyfe on that same afternoon in April, 1948, I took care myself to make that quite clear. I said:The right hon. and learned Gentleman was challenged whether it was not possible that mistakes might not be made. May I say that, of course, no one can give an absolute answer to that. With all the precautions in the world there may be an occasion when human fallibility lets people down …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1948; Vol. 449. c. 1077–89.]The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was nearly let down in the case in which he subsequently reprieved the offender after once deciding that the law must take its course. I was very nearly let down in the same way because, after all, at this stage, a few hours are very important indeed and I know that up to the very last moment the Home Secretary would give his full attention to the case in the hope that something might be found. The trouble arises when, as in the Evans case, it turns up a great deal too late.
I think that the Home Secretary will at least do me this credit, that since I vacated the office which he now holds I have not attempted to hamper the two Home Secretaries who succeeded me by ever making a representation to them, although I have been appealed to on occasion by hon. Friends to be associated with them in approaches to the two Ministers.
2560 As is not unusual on these occasions the House has been rather misled by the Press as to the exact line that is to be taken by the Government. It was suggested that the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) had found a lightning conductor for the Government, but I understand that. though they have probably read the right hon. and learned Gentleman's pamphlet, the Government are not making any promise for the future to adopt the things advocated in his pamplet and that their examination of the problem is to be limited to the few and narrow points that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman raised.
§ Mr. Ede
At any rate, the right hon and gallant Gentleman has not mentioned any help that he has received from the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his associates, and I hope that before he does accept their Report as a suitable way of dealing with this matter he will consider the devastating letter which appeared in The Times on Monday morning last from Professor Goodhart. [HON. MEMBERS: "And the answer."] I should like to say one or two words about this Report which, apparently, the right hon. and learned Gentleman hopes is still alive. It starts by saying:In 1948, the death penalty was by administrative action but without legal authority suspended in England for a trial period. Within a short time there was such a strong upsurge of public opinion as to compel the Government to bring the experiment to an end.As a piece of history, that is completely false. After all, I did it. In the end the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) came down on me like a thousand bricks for doing it. The House passed the new Clause of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne and we were then faced with the fact that there was a declaration in the House about the future of this penalty. If I had carried out what I did without saying anything about it, nothing would have been done, but what happened was that Lord Simon said that my statement was an infraction of the Bill of Rights; and the right hon. and learned Gentleman, having picked up the point from Lord Simon, belaboured me with it. As 2561 I pointed out to him, he did not find it out until somebody told him.
I admit that constitutionally it was an offence—and I want to mention this again because of something which has been said during the past few weeks. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has had a fairly long run, as these things go, of cases in which he has found it possible to recommend a reprieve, and I have seen it suggested in the Press that that was an indication that the Government were changing their minds. Just prior to the occasion of which I speak, I had a similar run of reprieves, entirely justified by the practice of the Home Secretary then, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been during the past month or two in his cases. Sir John Anderson, as he was then, now Lord Waverley, pointed out that when the late Arthur Henderson was Home Secretary he had a run of ten cases in which there was no possibility of recommending a reprieve in accordance with the practice.
It was no upsurge of public opinion which led me to bring that arrangement to an end but the fact that the Bill of Rights does not permit anyone to assume that a law is going to be altered before in fact it has been altered by due process of law.
I turn to page 18 of the book:The debate on (he desirability of retaining the death penalty would then be confined—I understand that this is if their recommendations were carried—to the moral issues upon which we believe it should be decided and no longer confused with extraneous disputes.I dispute that as a general proposition. I do not believe that we ask lawyers to decide what is the law and then make our moral consciences correspond with the law as they have defined it. I believe that we settle the moral issues in Parliament, and in the state of public opinion in the country, and then we expect the law to conform to the moral principles which we have decided to uphold.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
That is a gross misrepresentation of our authorship on this point, as I hope later to be able to show the House. May I make this comment at this stage? What we are saying is that the laws are grossly anomalous and anachronistic; that when we have removed the anomalies and the anachronisms we can reduce the 2562 issue to an area where only the most heinous offences will result in a charge of murder; and that then we can debate the question of the death penalty on the true moral issues.
§ Mr. Ede
Judging by the promises which we have had from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman we shall be a long time getting rid of the anomalies and anachronisms and we shall therefore virtually be postponing any discussion of the moral issues involved to an indefinite date. I am not prepared to do that.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman examined what he regarded as the arguments for and against capital punishment. He is confronted, as we all are confronted when we try to deal with this problem, with the fact that statistics prove nothing. As he said, we do not know the potential murderers who do not commit murder and who are in fact deterred. We must for the moment assume that every hon. Member falls into that category. If we are to wait until we can get some proof which would satisfy the right hon. and gallant Gentleman on the line he adopted this afternoon, we shall have to wait a long time; for I myself do not believe that any such proof will ever be forthcoming. That, of course, cuts both ways.
What we have to face is the state of public opinion in the country and the extent to which the public feels that it is safe that this irrevocable penalty can be used. I believe that the events which have transpired during the last two or three years have gravely shaken public opinion on that point, far more than it was ever shaken before.
I think one can also point to the fact that at this moment the voice of the various religious communities in the country has been more outspoken on this than ever before. There was a letter in The Times from the Secretary of the Council of Churches. I myself have received numerous letters, not from great church organisations but from the congregations of the faithful of all denominations in various parts of the country, assuring me of their feelings on the moral issues which are involved.
We also have the advantage of what was said by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1948:Within the Church itself always, and in the world so far as is practicable, the law of love, 2563 with its power to forgive, to convert, to reform and to refashion must permeate and shape the law of punishment.He pointed out that this oft-quoted text about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—on which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman rightly said this afternoon he was not relying—represented at the time a considerable advance in a very distant age in a very distant country from what the law of punishment had been before that.
Those of us who believe that we live in the New Dispensation cannot get away from the emphatic repudiation of that doctrine by the Founder of the Christian faith:Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil:The difficulty of that doctrine is to apply it. It occurs in the great manifesto of the Christian faith, the Sermon on the Mount. Where it is possible to apply it, I believe it to be an injunction from which Christians cannot escape.
I have no doubt that in the course of the debate some of my hon. Friends will deal with various of the detailed points raised by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. The time is now so late that it would be only shutting other people out of the debate if I went on for very much longer, but I was a bit interested in the speakers chosen to represent the Government in this debate. I read in yesterday's Manchester Guardian:The choice of Mr. Butler as final speaker in the death penalty debate is intended to guarantee that the case for reform as opposed to abolition shall be put at its most persuasive, and will thus sway as many waverers in the Conservative fold as possible.I make no complaint. It goes on:This will be the first time that Mr. Butler, in his new capacity as Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House, will have an opportunity to influence opinion on his own side, and he will wish to seize it with both hands.May I say that I cannot believe that last sentence is quite true? I do not believe that any man relishes having to take part in this debate, with any semblance of authority, particularly when he has to appear on the side of retaining a penalty which we none of us like, even when we believe it to be an essential part of the legal system of the country. I want the House, and particularly hon. Members opposite, to pay attention to the next sentence: 2564There are Tory waverers who half want to be persuaded to take the path of reform rather than that of abolition"—This is talking about Tory waverers—but who doubted whether Mr. Lloyd-George would be in a position to move them. Mr. Butler, who voted against the suspension of the death penalty for five years when it was debated in February, 1955, may do the trick.I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman shares with me the belief that we hope that this debate is something more than mere trickery and the use of dialectics.
§ Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to make this non-party—because we all do—he will realise that the debate, even from the other side of the House, is not on suspension only, but on abolition or suspension. There is a compromise on the other side and there is on this.
§ Mr. Ede
I am not saying anything, I hope, contrary to that. What I do want to say—and it is the last thing I intend to say, and I hope I shall have the agreement of the Lord Privy Seal in this—is that this is a very solemn debate, and I hope that nothing I have said has been in any way detrimental to the maintenance of that atmosphere. While we can rightly look to certain people for leadership on many issues, this is one of those issues on which men and women, hon. Members of this House, have to make up their own minds in accordance with their own consciences and the motives that they think should animate them in reaching a conclusion. I sincerely hope that if that is the spirit of the House—as up to the present it has been evident that it is—we shall reach a conclusion which will bring to an end the existing law which requires 12 people, or thereabouts, to be executed every year.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
Might I say this before the right hon. Gentleman sits down? He has been kind enough to quote certain observations about me. I hope he will understand that the authority for those observations is not mine. I am concluding this debate in my capacity as Leader of the House with a great sense of responsibility, and some degree of apprehension. I am doing it in my own spirit, with the agreement of my own Government and my own Prime Minister, as Leader of the House, and that is the spirit in which I shall approach it.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)
I entirely agree with part of the concluding words of the right hon. Gentleman, that this is a most solemn and difficult subject, and that it is the duty of one and all of us to turn our attention to the main issue. There are, as I see it, two issues, one of which is far more important than the other. The main one is, of course, whether the death penalty is to continue in this country at all; not whether it is to be suspended for five years, but whether it is to continue in this country at all. The second one is whether it is right, assuming that the death penalty is retained, that the law of murder should be amended as indicated by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Home Secretary, or otherwise. I add the words "or otherwise", because I am quite sure that if and when the House comes to debate— and it may be some time—amendments to the law of murder, there will be all sorts of other suggestions besides those put forward by my right hon. and gallant Friend.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I do not want to interrupt, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to amendments to the law of murder on the assumption that the death penalty is retained. Does he exclude the possibility that the death penalty might be abandoned and anomalies in the law of murder still continue?
§ Sir P. Spens
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. It is perfectly clear that, even though the death penalty were dropped as a punishment for murder, there would still remain, in the view of many of us, consideration of the details of the law of murder as it is today.
What I have to say to the House is partly, but not very greatly, founded on my experience as a judge in India. I never, of course, there presided over a murder trial of the first instance, but I did preside over the Supreme Court of Appeal, and during the four years that I sat as Chief Justice we had a great number of appeals from death sentences. Our duty was, perhaps, not so difficult as that of a judge of first instance, but equally 2566 serious when we had to consider whether a death sentence was to be set aside or reduced—as we were entitled to reduce it, to 14 years' rigorous imprisonment—or confirmed. It is partly from that experience that I, myself, am convinced that the death penalty is a deterrent in certain cases, and if the death penalty is a deterrent in certain cases, we then have to consider, and consider most carefully, what would be the result of doing away with it.
Of course, it is perfectly true that the bulk of the murders with which I had to deal in the Appeal Court were similar to the bulk of murders in this country; that is to say, they were murders committed suddenly, fiercely, unpremeditatedly, and so forth. But, in the course of that experience, I came across another type of murder, which I think does indicate, and indicate reasonably clearly, that the death penalty is a deterrent. Those were cases arising out of crimes of violence when the perpetrators may, or may not, have intended that the victim was to die, but, as a result of the violence used, the victim did in fact die and the crime, of course, was that of murder.
I propose to quote only two very different types of those cases. The first was one of the earliest appeals that I had to hear in August, 1943. It arose out of the uprisings in Bihar the previous year. There, on 13th August, 1942, a police station was captured by rioters. It was burned and the police officers were made prisoners by the rioters. The rioters then proceded to strip the policemen and toast them in front of the fire. They proceeded to withdraw them as soon as they thought the policemen looked as if they were about to collapse. There were two of these unfortunate victims. One of them did collapse after three or four toastings and the other did not collapse. As soon as the first one was seen to be about to die, or to be liable to die, every person concerned set to work trying to revive the victims and to prevent them from dying.
The rioters had already committed a crime which would obviously attract the longest term of rigorous imprisonment— why should they have tried to revive their unfortunate victims, but for the fact that they knew perfectly well that if one of those victims died they would be hanged, and hanged for a certainty?
2567 That is one instance. The other was a quite different one. A middle-aged lady, who strongly disliked her husband, proceeded every evening to give him an evening meal in which she put, not poison, but a very obnoxious irritant to the bowels. This went on over a period, after which it was quite obvious that the man was about to die. Thereupon, she rushed him to hospital and did everything in the world she could to prevent him dying. Why? Again, because she knew perfectly well that if he died she would incur liability to the death penalty.
Of course, those are very small indications that the death penalty is a deterrent. I entirely concur in what has been said by my right hon. and gallant Friend that no statistics can prove one way or the other whether the death penalty is a deterrent, but every one of us knows— knows inside himself—whether violent death is a deterrent to us and whether it will deter us from doing certain things. Masses of hon. Members in this House have served in the Armed Forces. I do not believe a single one if he says that he has never been deterred by bullets or bombs. Of course we have been deterred by bullets and bombs. I am not ashamed to confess that I have been gravely deterred, almost to the length of turning my back and not going forward when I ought to be going forward——
§ Sir P. Spens
I did not do so, but I did not go forward in the way I would have done if there had not been bullets flying about. I will give another instance. Just before I left India there were bad riots in Delhi. There was a great deal of firing on one occasion and somehow or other I had to get round the area where the rioting was going on. I motored miles to avoid going through the middle of it. I am sure that anyone else would have done the same.
I am absolutely convinced—I know— that fear of violent death is a deterrent, and no statistics, no arguments whatever, will convince me that it is not. It is something we know and, if we know that violent death is a deterrent, we must assume that in the past there have been cases when someone would have committed murder—not hon. Members of this House—had that person not known that 2568 if he did so he would hang for it. If there have been cases like that in the past, all I can say is that I am sure that we shall do a grave injury to society if we suspend or abolish the death penalty for the future.
The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) made a powerful speech about the Evans case. Having seen the difficulty of evidence in that great country overseas, I am certainly not one to go to the length of saying that it is impossible for the wrong man to be hanged. I am not one who would say that. I think the choice is between whether this country is going to risk in a very exceptional case under our procedure—which is as fool-proof as it can be—the possibility of the wrong man being hanged in future, or to risk the case, which gets far more sympathy from me, that some unknown and unknowable man, woman, or child is to be murdered in future who would not be murdered if the death penalty were retained.
To me there is no question of what the choice is to be. I should regard a vote cast for suspending or doing away with the death penalty as one full of risk that some innocent person would be murdered who otherwise would not have been murdered. I would much rather take the risk that some fellow might get himself into a position in which he is brought before a judge and jury and yet, with all the evidence against him that he is a murderer, there is something wrong. In my view, there is an enormous chance against that sort of thing happening, whereas, if we abolish the death penalty, the chances of innocent persons being murdered who otherwise would not be murdered I believe are very great indeed.
I have no hesitation whatever, under those circumstances, in urging right hon. and hon. Members to think, and think most carefully, before they vote for the suspension or abolition of the death penalty. What the right hon. Member for South Shields said is perfectly true; the country was very seriously concerned over the Evans case, but I am equally certain that if the case I have told the House about—the toasting of those policemen—could have occurred here, and have been reported in the Press of this country, and there was the situation that none of the perpetrators would hang, the country 2569 would take a very different view about the death penalty. Therefore, I do not think that there is any real conflict, and I am bold enough to say that I have no doubt whatever which way I should vote tonight.
I want to say a few words about changes in the law. It is true that the country has been confused to some extent and that it objects to the present system, under which a great number of persons are charged with murder, tried for murder and even condemned to death for murder, and are then—I am not saying automatically, but almost certainly—reprieved, when everybody knows that they will be reprieved. by the Home Secretary. It is a bad system under which something like only one out of 20—or whatever it is— persons condemned to death is ever hanged. There must be something wrong with a system like that, and it cannot be beyond the bounds of possibility for us to draft legislation which would limit the crime of murder to the type of persons who, with all their senses about them, deliberately and maliciously set out to kill and succeed in killing.
Under those circumstances, I believe that the amendment of the law, as it is referred to in the Government Motion, should now accompany the continuation of the death penalty, but that the main issue, and the issue on which everything depends, is that of the very serious consequences which I believe would ensue if the death penalty was either suspended or abolished.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
The House always listens with very great respect and pleasure to the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), and I am quite certain that everything that he has told us this afternoon he has told us with great conviction and sincerity. I am sure that the House will take proper note of the arguments which he has advanced.
If I myself do not find them convincing, I am sure that, with his usual tolerance, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me. I do not find them convincing—including the case of the woman who was in process of murdering her husband and then, rather late in the day, seemed to realise that the death penalty would apply, and so altered her mind and tried to save him. 2570 I should have thought that she might have thought of that a little earlier.
§ Sir P. Spens
We must not do her an injustice, because she may be still alive. She always denied that she was in process of murdering her husband, and said she was only taking steps to confine him to the house so that he did not stray elsewhere.
§ Mr. Morrison
I felt that there was some explanation, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman has promptly provided it.
This is one of those rare occasions when the Whips are off and there is a free vote of the House, and I should like to say at once for myself—and I think I am speaking for my hon. Friends on these benches—that we are appreciative of the action of the Government and the Leader of the House in taking off the Whips on this occasion, even if it is a little difficult for them not to take them off, because of the position on the other side. Nevertheless, it is an action of some consideration on the part of any Government to take off the Whips, and I am very glad that the Government today have accorded a free vote to the House.
There is one thing I would add, not in any spirit of controversy. Indeed, I do not wish to be controversial, certainly not in the party sense, today, but, as the Whips have been taken off, and as the issue is submitted to the House on the basis of a free vote, I hope we can be assured by the Leader of the House, in the course of his reply, that the Government will act upon the decision of the House, whichever way the decision is taken, just as we, if the decision goes the way we do not want, must put up with it as the decision of the House, and accept it for the time being.
I remember that there was a free vote on another matter some time ago, which perhaps even to mention would not be appropriate on a day like this, but the Leader of the House will remember it, because he was Chancellor at the time. A free vote was agreed to, but the decision was not accepted by the Government. I think that is quite wrong. If a Government agrees to the House having a free vote, as I did on a number of occasions when Leader of the House— and, on a number of occasions, I did not get the result which I or the Government wanted—the Government must put up 2571 with the result. I therefore hope that the Leader of the House can give us an assurance on that point.
This is eminently a day upon which former Secretaries of State for the Home Department are entitled to make their observations. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has made his. The present Secretary of State has quite rightly given his. There are only two other former Home Secertaries now in the House—the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who has been attending the debate, I was very glad to see, and myself; I held that office for nearly five years.
May I, in the first place, say this in justice to the Home Office, and I believe in justice to the general conduct of Secretaries of State for the Home Department? This duty of the Home Secretary is, as the present Home Secretary has said, a very delicate, sometimes difficult and painful one, upon which it is necessary that he shall have a great sense of fairness, a capacity to weigh facts and evidence and also a capacity to come to decisions. I have read stories of Home Secretaries in earlier days who were so worried about this duty that they would walk up and down their room in the Home Office for three days on end in complete distraction before coming to a decision. I feel that people who feel like that about it had possibly better not hold the office of Home Secretary.
If one holds that office, one must administer the law and be ready to give a decision. Though there are cases in which it is desirable to postpone a decision for a day or even more, it is no use getting into a state of nerves about it. One has to weigh up the evidence, be as fair as one can, and, above all, it is essential—and I think that the holder or those who have held the office will agree with me—that one must be on the look-out for extenuating circumstances which tell in favour of the convicted person or circumstances which lead one to have any doubt whether the decision is the right one to implement.
I would say this for the official Home Office. I went there, having often visited it on deputations before, and I found the entrance and the building a little dreary. I did not know that I was going to be happy at the Home Office. Of the official 2572 staff of the Home Office, I would say that I had in succession at various times three or four principal advisers on this matter and the public ought to know that if ever I met a body of men—civil servants and officers of the Government— who went out of their way to try to find circumstances which told in favour of a convicted person in cases generally, but particularly in capital cases, they were the officers of the Home Office who were charged with this responsibility.
This needs to be said, because there are people outside—there may be some here—who think that there is an element of brutality about the Home Office, who think that it is perhaps a little sadistic and gets pleasure out of these things. Believe me, it is not true. It would not be fair to believe it. I wanted to pay that tribute to men with whom I worked and men who do not always receive justice outside. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Moreover, whereas Continental Ministries of the Interior have a nasty sound and are often among the enemies of freedom and liberty, I would say that if there is a single Department of State in this country which is our best guardian of civil liberty and freedom, it is the Home Office, over which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman presides, and whose tradition has been handed down from his predecessors.
Therefore, when a case comes up for consideration at the Home Office there is the most careful examination of all the records of the case, the proceedings in court, the knowledge of the police, any information from the Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions and so on. The most careful reports which are prepared are, in my judgment, objective, fair and impartial.
A recommendation may be made with a query mark beside it. It is then the sole responsibility of the Secretary of State to come to a decision, subject to this: that, if he wishes, he can ask the trial judge to come and see him, not for the purpose of the trial judge saying what, in his view, the decision of the Home Secretary should be, but rather for the purpose of giving him the background of the convicted person, any further information he wants about the trial and any information of that general character which may help the Home Secretary in coming to a decision. Then, it is for the 2573 Secretary of State to decide, and it is his duty to look for the possibility of mitigating circumstances.
I suppose that in the majority of cases —not in all cases, but in a large proportion of them—in which the exercise of the Royal Prerogative is advised, a circumstance may well be the element of provocation. That comes into the matter frequently.
In addition, in the case of a good many charges of murder there will be petitions, extensively signed by people who wish the prisoner to be reprieved. Sometimes there are further representations from the solicitor for the accused person, and these also are taken into account. So far as I recall, never in my experience—nor, possibly, in anybody else's—did I receive a petition from the friends of the murdered person asking that the prisoner should be executed.
There are always those arguments to be taken into account, quite apart from the possibility of newspaper discussion. Therefore, I assure the House that all the facts are taken into account, unless, of course, some of the facts are not there. In my own experience, I think that the decisions were right, not because I reached them, but because there is nothing about which I can charge my conscience with the feeling that a wrong decision was reached. At any rate, every care was taken.
I confess that on this issue I have been uncertain in my own mind. In 1948, I thought, with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields and with the Government that, in the circumstances then obtaining, it would have been wrong for us to advise the House at that time to abolish the death penalty. But the more I think about this matter the more I study it, the more information there comes along and the more I study public opinion, I become increasingly uncertain as to whether it is right to retain the death penalty. Therefore, I have thought about it. I am less convinced that it is a decisive deterrent in cases of murder.
Of course, in the bulk of murder cases, when the person commits the murder he probably is not thinking a great deal about the penalty. That is not true in all cases, but nevertheless it is a material factor. The person is probably not thinking about the penalty at all. In view of the gruesome picture which the Home 2574 Secretary has, quite rightly, given of imprisonment for life, if the man did consider carefully between instantaneous death and a long period of imprisonment, it is an arguable point as to which he might prefer. The Secretary of State's argument about life imprisonment went rather far and he was almost proving that it would be a more effective deterrent than the death penalty.
And so I have become less convinced that the death penalty is an effective deterrent. I admit that on the statistics it is a difficult case to prove or disprove. In very exceptional cases, and there have been exceptional cases, in which somebody is not insane but is sufficiently mentally abnormal to want to become famous —not that murderers alone suffer from that weakness—there have been instances in which a person has committed murder in the cheerful anticipation of dominating the front pages of newspapers and getting a sort of heroism out of it. Fortunately, such cases are not numerous, but there it is.
Having thought and thought about it, and having wrestled with my mind as well as with my conscience and with my emotions about it, I became increasingly doubtful whether the death penalty is as decisive a deterrent or is more of a deterrent than life imprisonment or a substantial period of imprisonment would be.
Moreover, if one follows the history of this subject over Europe and part of the United States, it is the fact that the abolition of the death penalty has increasingly occurred. The law has been changed. It is interesting that in some instances the use of the death penalty was almost abolished by administrative action or inaction for some years before the law was changed. It is, however, true, as the Home Secretary said, that we cannot tell how many people have committed murder who would not have committed it if there had not been the capital sentence.
The awkward fact for the Home Secretary to overcome, the awkward fact that impressed the Royal Commission, and one of the important facts which must have impressed Sir Ernest Gowers, who is himself a convert after being Chairman of the Royal Commission, is that it is shown that in countries or States where the death penalty has been abolished, the number of murders has, in general, not increased. Indeed, in some of them it 2575 has diminished, although I would not argue that that was the result of the abolition of the death penalty.
The conversion of Sir Ernest Gowers is not conclusive, but it really is important evidence. I know him very well. He worked under me at the Ministry of Home Security. He was a civil servant of very great ability. He worked under my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) in another Department some years ago, and, I think, my right hon. Friend and I would agree that he is a likeable man but not one who would be swept off his feet by sheer emotion. If he has become converted on the subject of the abolition of the death penalty, it must be the result of experience he gained from facts and circumstances that came to his notice as Chairman of the Royal Commission. He is evidence in himself that there is something in the argument in favour of abolition.
I also feel that between 1948 and 1956 there has been a change in public opinion in favour of abolition or suspension. I try to be fair and objective in these arguments, and I shall not argue that there is yet a majority of public opinion in favour of abolition. My instinct is to doubt whether there is a majority of individuals in favour of abolition, but I think that the number is substantial. It has grown, and is growing; and there are times when the House must not be afraid of being a little in advance of public opinion.
Moreover, it is better that we should act in the light of that situation and in the light of our judgment and our own opinions than that we should wait until we are pitchforked into a change. Therefore, for these reasons I have now come to a conclusion different from that which I formerly held.
The other point to be remembered is that if and when public opinion changes, as I believe it is changing, the effect on the proceedings in the court and on the minds of the jury will be increasingly noticeable. I am not sure, either, that this developing public opinion does not have the effect on the courts and on juries and even of Home Secretaries and the Home Office of causing decisions to be reached a little differently from what would have been the case certainly thirty 2576 or forty years ago. If it gets to the stage when juries increasingly look round for excuses not to bring in a verdict which the evidence warrants and to see whether there is a way out, that will not be good for the administration of justice.
Every Home Secretary has had the experience of a number of cases in which a recommendation to mercy is put forward. The jury has every right in putting forward such a recommendation, and it is the duty of the Home Secretary to give full weight to it. But I feel pretty sure that in a fair proportion of such cases the recommendation was probably the result of a compromise arrangement in the jury room.
Neither I nor anyone else knows, but I have a feeling that in many cases a recommendation to mercy is the result of a compromise arrangement when one or two men or women hold out and the others say, "If we put in a recommendation to mercy, which you can take it from us will have every consideration, will you agree to a verdict of guilty?" That may well be a way of resolving a difficulty in the jury room. I am not complaining about that because in any case the Home Secretary has to form his own judgment and therefore the position is quite safe.
When capital punishment becomes less and less acceptable to public opinion. it will become more and more difficult for juries to come to a verdict in accordance with the evidence. It was argued that that was so in the case of the death penalty for minor offences. It is said that one of the factors in getting rid of the death penalty in those cases was that juries failed to convict when there ought to have been a conviction and some punishment.
We all believe in sex equality. We believe in equality of rights and obligations as between men and women, but executions of women are becoming distasteful, whether people believe in sex equality or not. I feel that as trials of women for murder take place, juries will tend more and more to find excuses for not convicting.
Despite what the Home Secretary has said, I am worried about the case of the three men who were wrongly convicted recently, as admitted by the Secretary of State who, indeed, paid compensation. If the policeman had died, one or more of 2577 those men might have been executed for a crime which it was decided later they did not commit.
The Home Secretary says today that he is quite sure that if one or more of them had been convicted of murder he would have reprieved them. That is a rather bold thing to say. I am not quite sure that it was altogether a proper thing to say. After all, the Home Secretary can deal with the matter only on his own at he time, with the information before him as it comes and when it comes. His observation was perhaps a little daring. the possibility of such a happening which cannot be undone worries me.
In the course of his speech, the Home Secretary made a number of proposals in justification of that part of the Motion which contemplates some modification of the law. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields in that, firstly, I do not think much of the amendments which the Home Secretary proposes. I do not think that they are improvements or that they make a material difference. Secondly, if too many of these delicate points are put into the law, one increases the difficulties of courts and juries, and also of Governments in their administration. I am not a lawyer, and perhaps I ought not to be too bold. therefore, in expressing an opinion, but it seems to me that the proposals put forward are proposals which could be taken into account by the Home Secretary in advising Her Majesty on the exercise of the Royal Prerogative.
I suggest to hon. Members in all parts of the House that the Government are in a difficulty. I am not in any way challenging their sincerity. I have sat in a Government who have had to consider this matter. It is not easy, and Ministers have varied in their feelings on it. I think that the Government feel that public opinion and Parliamentary opinion is on the move, and that therefore they have had to look round for some concession which would enable capital punishment to remain but under some modified conditions. I feel that that was the motive in putting forward these modifications, but I do not think that they are a material contribution. I say to hon. Members who, on the merits of the case, are inclined to vote for suspension or abolition that the proposals made by the 2578 Home Secretary are utterly inadequate to justify their voting the other way.
On the face of it, imprisonment for life is the alternative. That, of course, will not remove the responsibility of the Home Secretary for deciding whether and when he will release a prisoner. He exercises that duty now. The figure which he gave of an average of about nine years was received with some surprise in the House. It was not surprising to me.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not know. In a number of murder cases, of course, the period of imprisonment might have been longer. I should have been ready to expect the average to be lower, knowing the great consideration with which the Home Office acts in these matters. In the event of imprisonment there would be a great responsibility on the Home Secretary to judge the merits of the case in two senses, and to decide when release should take place.
There are some murder cases in which the degree of provocation or the explanation why the murder happened is so substantial that in determining the period of imprisonment, which in fact falls to the Home Secretary, there is something to be said for consideration of a not unkindly nature, even though murder has been done. There will be other cases in which execution now takes place and in which it will not take place if the law is amended in the direction which we desire, in which we must not take the risk of allowing people out too soon and for which the detention must be for a long period, and possibly for life. The House must understand and accept that as the other side of the picture of the duty of the Home Secretary, and not be unreasonable about it.
Finally, of course, there is the Motion today. If it is carried then that will be the opinion of the House. But it does not of itself alter the law. The law must go on being administered until it is altered. If this Motion is carried today, I submit to the Minister that it is his duty to bring in legislation as quickly as possible—not rush it through the House but to give it all early and reasonable facilities—in order that the law may be 2579 changed, after proper consideration, with all reasonable dispatch.
I have given a lot of deep, sincere and conscientious thought to this matter. I speak after experience of being Home Secretary, but I do not say that my opinion is conclusive because the present Home Secretary has spoken with that experience, too, and has drawn another conclusion. I feel it in my bones that this change will come and that public opinion will insist upon it. I do not believe that we should be with the general tide of public opinion if we resisted this change, and I would prefer the House freely—and this is the day of freedom— of its own wisdom and of its own decision to face this major change without waiting until, in an undignified way, we are pushed into it, possibly by a wave of emotion about a particular case later on. Therefore, I support the Amendment.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
It is a great honour and a great responsibility to be called upon by you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in a debate of this importance after three right hon. Members who have been Home Secretaries and one who has been Chief Justice of India. I was always very hesitant about speaking in this debate at all, because I felt that it might be thought that I was trying to push, or advertise, the views of a certain committee of which I had the honour to be chairman. But in view of various comments, kind and otherwise, which have been made by various people in various quarters, I thought that it was only fair to the distinguished members of my profession who have given their time to considering this matter that their position should be made clear.
I should like, therefore, to say a word or two about our Report. I will say very little for the reason which I have already indicated. The members of this committee, leaving myself out of it, were experienced criminal law practitioners. They approached this matter from one point of view and one only, and that was: how the law relating to murder could be improved. I do not know what are the views of more than one of them on the question of abolition. As for the one whose views I know, he is in favour of it.
Therefore, any suggestion, such as has been insinuated, that this was a sort of stunt to try to influence the debate today 2580 is a very unworthy one indeed. I am sorry that some of the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) might be thought to support that suggestion. I was glad that the right hon. Member for Lewis-ham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) spoke in a way which we are all accustomed to from him, in a very calm manner on a serious matter of this kind, speaking from vast experience.
In our report we were concerned, as I have said, only with the question of the improving of the law, and what we had in view was—I will state it in our own words—to reserve the death penalty for those only… who actually plot for, procure or personally and intentionally cause death and who are not debarred from having the necessary animus by reason of provocation for whatever reason and are not so mentally weak as to be substantially less able to control themselves than a normal person.However difficult it may be to do that, I should have thought that a great many people would agree that that was a reasonable and proper thing to aim at.
We had in mind particularly the high importance of retaining confidence in the law. We did not feel that it was sufficient, as the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South suggested, that we should rely on the Prerogative. We thought that too much strain was being put on the Prerogative already. We felt, also, that there had been too little public discussion of the question of improving the law relating to murder. We thought that there had been too much discussion of the two extremes, and as lawyers, often unpopular in their views but sometimes useful in arriving at a middle course, we quite frankly approached the matter from that point of view, abolition having been particularly excluded from our terms of reference, as it was in the case of the Royal Commission.
We knew of the assiduous and perfectly genuine campaign in favour of abolition, but we felt that perhaps twenty or thirty letters from constituents in a constituency of perhaps 50,000 people were not absolutely conclusive. In fact, we were reminded, as we said in our report, of the famous saying of Burke in relation to public opinion:Half a dozen grasshoppers under the fern make the field ring with their importunate chink whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent.2581 I thought that some hon. Members might like to be reminded of that.
Our recommendations may be bad or good; it is not for me to say. I can assure the House that I and the members of my committee have been surprised and sharply impressed by the evidence we have had from all over the country of the interest that our proposals have created and the evidence that it gives that there are a great many people who want consideration to be given to a middle way. If that is wanted by the people of the country, and if we are democratic, we presumably should give them an oppor-unity to have it.
I was a little surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields, in his pardonable enthusiasm for his cause, seemed to think that it was rather a disgraceful thing that we had made a report at all. All that I can say is that Professor Goodhart, a very old friend of mine, for whom I have the greatest respect, certainly has not treated me for what I have said or done in the same sense as the right hon. Member for South Shields, because the right hon. Gentleman said that Professor Goodhart had said that our report was most complete nonsense and had torn it to pieces. This is what he wrote to me:I have read your letter in today's issue of The Times with great interest. Its very friendly tone is quite unlike that which some of my correspondents have adopted. They seem to think that I am advocating more and better murders.That is much more the spirit in which I approach the matter than that of the right hon. Gentleman.
I will not discuss the proposals in detail, but I cannot help commenting that apparently the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields has not read our report, because he said he understood that the Government were not going to consider any of our proposals. I hope I was not wrong, but I thought it advisable to intervene and point out that the Government have covered all three of our proposals in the speech of the Home Secretary today. That may show the value of the comments of the right hon. Gentleman.
The first recommendation deals with the question of constructive malice. As is generally known, that is an ancient rule dating from the time when all felonies suffered the penalty of death. In those 2582 days it did not much matter whether one was making an artificial distinction one way or the other. It is a very different thing today and our proposals, in the opinion of the experienced criminal lawyers who sit with me, would be valuable in several important respects. I will not go into them here, because I dealt with them in the correspondence in The Times.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I feel sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as a lawyer of distinction, will agree that every law student for thirty-five or forty years, in studying criminal law, has been told that the doctrine of constructive malice has fallen into desuetude. Until the Bentley case it had not been applied once in fifty years.
§ Sir L. Heald
That may be so or it may not, but we do not know what is to happen tomorrow; and we are dealing with the future and not with the past, as so many hon. Members seem to be doing. I will not go beyond that.
The second point of provocation is a much more important matter. Professor Goodhart raised it and it may be that other people are under a similar misapprehension: why has there been no case of provocation by words alone in the last ten years? The answer is that it is because the House of Lords said ten years ago that there could not be. That was precisely the reason why we suggested that the law should be amended.
Then there is the standard of the "reasonable man." I am sure that there are many hon. Members in this House who feel, as I do, that the law at present is very unsatisfactory on this point. We have to assume that the man who is said to have been provoked was a reasonable man, with all his faculties, physical as well as mental. Therefore, whether he is blind, whether he has one leg, or whatever other handicap, we must ignore that. There is thus this position that if, say, a man with a very painful stump of leg gets kicked, that must be ignored, although one would think that this fact made the provocation greater. Many people are not happy about that. The day before yesterday I read of a judge at assizes talking about provocation, and he said to the jury, "You must not assume that the law has been changed" 2583 To say, therefore, that this is irrelevant is not quite sound. After all, there was the famous case not long ago of the woman who had been seduced by a man who afterwards tried to force her to go into prostitution for him. The last straw in that case was an insult. It may be that the Home Secretary can intervene in those cases but I feel, with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), that this ought to be dealt with by the law and not by the Royal Prerogative.
Finally, our committee dealt with the question of diminished responsibility. Although a Conservative committee, we recommended something far from conservative—that we should go to Scotland and ask for advice there on legal matters. When hon. Members get over the shock of that—and you, Mr. Speaker, will get over it much more quickly than many other people in this House—it will be found that this works very well. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and in Scotland it works, so surely it is worth trying.
These are the main recommendations and it is not for me to discuss them any further. However, I want to say something about the point raised about innocent people being hanged. Here I want to be perfectly frank and blunt. The right hon. Member for South Shields has said, not only today but on other days, that he thinks Evans was not guilty. I was Attorney-General at the time and I prosecuted Christie. I knew all about the case and I think that Evans was guilty——
§ Sir L. Heald
I will make my speech in my own way if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
My own view about the matter was that both Christie and Evans were concerned in that murder and that it was only through a miscarriage of justice on a technical point that Christie was not hanged at that time. However, we put that right later.
§ Sir L. Heald
If anybody in his House thinks that Christie was not guilty of 2584 murder I do not know what I can say about it. I will not say any more about that, but will turn for a moment to the other part of the Motion dealing with the question of abolition. Whatever controversies we may have about the matters we have been discussing, I have the greatest respect for all those who have conscientious scruples, whether about the abolition of the death penalty or about pacifism. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and I have had many passages about many things, but I would not be guilty of treating his views other than with respect. Of course, I could not possibly hope to influence him, or any of those who hold his views, but there may be some hon. Members here this evening who still have an open mind and are thinking of the matter from the point of view of their duties as Members of Parliament—and that is the way I am thinking.
The way I approach the matter is as follows. I think it will be agreed that the first duty of any Government is to defend the lives and property of the people. It is also the duty of Parliament to support the Government in that duty irrespective of any party considerations. I believe that that would be agreed by the majority of hon. Members in this House today. For that purpose it is necessary to do two things. It is necessary to provide properly armed and equipped Forces. It is equally necessary to provide properly equipped civil power if Government policy were to be based upon considerations such as those which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne so eloquently and genuinely believes in. then the first thing we would have to do would be to throw away the military rifle; because if there is a thing which is designed for only one purpose, namely, to kill people, it is the military rifle.
We do not do that. What do we do? We retain the rifle, but we strive to our utmost to reduce occasions for its use to the minimum. That is the principle we adopt. I would like to know how it can be suggested that one can logically depart from that principle as regards the death penalty. Can we, as Members of Parliament, deny to the State the ultimate sanction of life and death? That is what we are going to decide tonight. The penalty is a terrible one, but crimes also are terrible.
2585 Let me say to some hon. Members who appear to be laughing at what I say that this is a serious matter. Let us see whether they may not have overlooked a point. If we are to act on principle and abolish the death penalty on principle —the principle of the sanctity of human life—we cannot decently and honestly retain it under the Treason Act. There is no doubt about that, but the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne wants it abolished for all that.
The hon. Member was one of only ten people who voted against the death penalty being retained under the Army Act when it was being amended in this House on 9th February, 1955, and when, by 205 votes to 10, it was retained. One cannot logically keep that view and at the same time retain the penalty in Colonial Territories like Malaya, Kenya, and so on. I wonder whether some of those who contemplate voting with those hon. Members with that very high ideal realise to what they are committing themselves.
This evening, Parliament can be likened, I think, to a wise governor of a territory where the villagers have to be protected from bandits and, occasionally, from wild animals. In that territory there have for generations been armed guards. Their weapons are old and the instructions for their use by no means certain. Public uneasiness has grown and it has even been suggested that not only petty thieves, instead of real criminals, but even innocent citizens have been killed. So the wise governor consults the leading citizens of the territory.
Some will say, "You, Sir, are a humane man. Now is your opportunity. Demonstrate your moral superiority and abolish these armed guards. Guns are barbarous and human life is sacred." But some others, perhaps more mindful of their position in the government of the territory, will say to him, "No. First get new and up-to-date guns and, secondly, see that the instructions for their use are clearly laid down and definitely understood." That is the decision which we have to make tonight.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. William Reid (Glasgow, Provan)
Before the case for capital punishment can be established, it has to be proved that capital punishment acts as a deterrent. 2586 We have had capital punishment as part of our penal code in this country for hundreds of years. It has not prevented murders. Capital punishment for murder has been abolished in many European countries. The Royal Commission which sat from 1949 to 1952 had numerous witnesses from abolitionist countries before it to give evidence. The evidence of the witnesses from those countries which had abolished capital punishment was that abolition did not result in any increase in murders.
During the last century the death penalty has been removed from 200 offences. In each case the abolition of the sentence came only after strong opposition from the judges. They maintained that the removal would lead to an increase of the offences. The judges were proved to be hopelessly wrong. The late Archbishop Temple said:I believe (hat (he example of the State (taking life, even when it only does so in re(urn for a life already taken, does more to lower (he value of human life in the minds of the citizens than the deterrent influence of this penalty can do to protect the lives of the citizens. In this way I believe that the main influence of the retention of the death penalty is rather to increase than diminish the number of murders.If one in 10,000 knew exactly what happened at an execution, the outcry would be so loud and insistent that I am confident that capital punishment would be abolished within twelve months.
It was my painful duty as a junior magistrate in the City of Glasgow to attend a hanging in January, 1928. The procedure in carrying out executions in Scotland in many ways is different from that in England and Wales. In cities like Glasgow, the two junior magistrates are appointed to represent the magistrates and corporation. The principal duties of those junior magistrates are, first, identification and, secondly, to see the execution carried out.
When we entered the condemned cell on that fateful morning I frankly admit that I became speechless. My tongue refused to articulate and I was unable to put to the condemned man the question, "Are you James Mackay?" My colleague, however, put the question and the prisoner, standing at attention as if on parade, answered in the affirmative. At this stage the governor of the prison entered and offered the prisoner a glass of whisky. The condemned man in 2587 reply, said, "No thank you. I will meet my Maker with a clean breath."
The hangman then entered and tied the hands of the prisoner behind his back. We then retired to the shed where the execution had to take place. Just as eight o'clock began to strike, a clatter of feet could be heard crossing the prison yard. When the door of the shed opened, a little procession entered, headed by the governor of the prison, the prison chaplain, the doctor and the executioner. The condemned man was about the coolest person in that assembly.
Taking in the situation at a glance, he stepped underneath the rope which was hanging from a beam and held up his neck, which made it easier for the hangman to adjust the noose. Two straps were quickly fastened, one underneath the knees and the other round the ankles. A white cap was hastily slipped over the head as the executioner stepped back to see that everything was in order. The clergyman started to utter an exhortation. Then, from underneath that white cap came the words, clear and distinct, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." The lever was promptly pulled and the body disappeared from sight.
During all these proceedings the most agitated person in that assembly was the prison governor. Turning to the small group he said, "Gentlemen, that's all over." I intervened to ask, "Is the body not examined at this stage?" His reply staggered me. He said, "No. The doctor will tell you all about that when we go back to my office."
On adjourning to the governor's office, and before signing any of the official documents placed before me for signature, I asked the doctor why the body was not examined after the execution had taken place. "That is not the practice here," he said, explaining that the Home Office regulation laid it down that the body must hang for one hour and that it would be examined at the expiry of that time.
Pressing him still further, I asked, "Why this hour's delay?" He answered that sometimes death was not instantaneous and, were not it, death would certainly take place within that hour by strangulation. My next question was, "Have you had any cases within your own personal knowledge where death was 2588 not instantaneous?" "Yes," he replied, "in two cases death was caused by strangulation instead of by the breaking of the vertebrae." I was deeply shocked. Any preconceived notion I had that death was always instantaneous was rudely shattered. Sometime later the governor's mangled body was picked up from the railway track between Glasgow and Ayr.
During the year I served as a junior magistrate, a second execution was due to take place in Glasgow. On this occasion I refused point blank to act, informing the magistrates of my previous experience, the revolting nature of which made me adamant on the subject. The difficulty was promptly overcome by a brother magistrate volunteering to take my place.
After the meeting of the magistrates I gave an interview to the Press and detailed my reasons for refusing to act. Wide publicity was given to that interview and this salient fact remains, that for the succeeding eighteen years there was not a single execution in Scotland. Not that there were no murders, but on each occasion the Home Secretary in those years granted a reprieve.
Since 1928, I understand that the technique of hanging has changed and that the body is now immediately examined by a doctor. Here perhaps I may quote from page 250 of the evidence submitted to the last Royal Commission. The evidence was given by Mr. Bentley Purchase, Coroner for the Northern District of the City of London:At whose instance many such examinations have been made by the late Sir Bernard Spilsbury …after executions at Wandsworth and Pentonville Prisons. The evidence shows,that the effective cause of death in 58 executions at these two prisons was fracture dislocation of cervical vertebrae with laceration or crushing of the cord. Any such dislocation causes immediate unconsciousness and there is no chance of a later recovery of consciousness since breathing is no longer possible.The next sentence, to me, is appalling:The heart may continue to beat for up to twenty minutes, but this is a purely automatic function.Do not these facts create in every breast in this House a feeling of repugnance and disgust? Capital punishment is legalised murder committed by the State. We shall be a cleaner and a healthier nation without it.
2589 As I have already said, the technique of hanging has been changed since 1928, but the Home Office still insist that the body must hang for one hour. Why? Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House can answer that question for themselves. To me, the answer is obvious. It is now more than twenty years since I attended that execution, but believe me when I say that the picture of that hanging will never be effaced from my memory as long as God gives me breath.
Finally, I would say to the Home Secretary and to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that, were they obliged, as I was, to attend one execution, I venture to suggest that there would never be another.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)
I did not wish to interrupt the hon. Member during his speech on a subject about which I realise he feels very strongly. But the records at Duke Street Prison where the hanging to which he referred took place have been examined, and in each case of a hanging there is a certificate by the governor to the effect that the execution was carried out without incident.
On the question of the practice, I should like to say this to correct the hon. Member if he is in any doubt about it. It is true that the practice was for a body to hang for an hour before being taken down, but that is no longer so. The examination is now carried out by the medical officer within a few minutes and a certificate is then signed. As to the use of this system, I would refer the hon. Gentleman to paragraph 772 of the Report from which he quoted, which states:Very few suggestions were made to us for improving the technique of hanging, and we do not believe that it now admits of improvement. Apart from the minor recommendation we have already made … about the identification of prisoners in Scotland, we have no suggestions to make.That is, of course, provided that the death penalty is retained.
§ Mr. Reid
The Secretary of State is wrong when he says that the body does not now remain hanging for one hour. Page 250 of the Report on Capital Punishment says: 2590The medical officer carries out an immediate inspection to assure himself that life is extinct and the body is then left to hang for an hour before being taken down.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
I must ask the House to be kind enough to extend to me the indulgence which it usually grants to maiden speachers. I am aware that this is a highly controversial subject, and that it is my duty, as a maiden speaker, to be non-controversial. I can only say that I shall do my best, although I must be controversial to the extent of expressing an opinion.
First, I should like to say how much I welcome the proposals contained in the speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary for some amendment of the law relating to murder. The suggestions which he has mentioned will go some way towards narrowing down the category of murderer. I shall feel very much happier when the term "murderer" includes only those people who, having complete control over their senses, set out in cold blood either to take the life of another themselves or actively to assist in doing so. To me, that person is the real murderer. He is the man whom we must prevent from committing his crime if we possibly can.
Many hon. Members have spoken of the deterrent effect of the death penalty, and I shall have a word to say about that. Before doing so, however, I suggest that the penalty which may be imposed for a crime is not the only deterrent. In my view, there are two deterrent factors—the likelihood of being caught, and the penalty which may be inflicted if one is caught. If both those factors are great, I believe that the total deterrent effect is great, but if either is small the total deterrent effect is weakened.
Perhaps I may instance, as an illustration of what I mean, a very much less serious offence than that which we are now discussing. Many a motorist will drive his motor car through a deserted street in a built-up area at 35 m.p.h. knowing full well that the chances of his being caught are very small, but that same man, driving the same motor car on a main road, where he knows that 2591 police patrols are operating, will take much more care not to exceed the speed limit. The penalty for the offence is exactly the same in both cases, but the likelihood of being caught is widely different. I do not see any reason why that principle should not apply to greater crimes—even to the greatest of all, which we are now discussing; the crime of murder.
In this country, the chances of being caught after committing a murder are very high. In the last three years over 500 murders have been committed, and in only one case in every 14 has the murderer remained undetected. I am sure the House will agree that those figures reflect great credit upon the police. The detection of murder is a very arduous and difficult job, and our police forces are understaffed. Such a high proportion of detections is greatly to their credit. I very much hope that the measures which the Government are taking to bring our police forces up to full strength will assist them to make the proportion of undetected murders even smaller.
I wish that the figures which I have just given to the House were more widely known. I do not think that they are sufficiently well known. There is an impression among some people that if one is clever enough one can get away with murder, but it is clearly very difficult to do so. The deterrent effect of knowing these figures would be very high.
As I have said, the other part of the deterrent effect is the penalty which may be exacted if one is caught. Many speakers have pointed out that a considerable difference of opinion exists as to the value of the death penalty as a deterrent. We are told that statistics really do not show anything one way or the other—so one is obliged to rely upon what other information one can get from the Royal Commission Report and from the common sense outlook that one adopts.
I rely for my opinion upon an extract from the Report of the Royal Commission, which says, in page 21:capital punishment is likely to act as a deterrent more of premeditated murders than of impulsive ones, and on normal persons more than on the mentally abnormal.The Report says that this statement cannot be supported by statistics, but is 2592 a commonsense view. Many people will not stop to consider the question of deterrents at all, such as those who act with a sudden ungovernable passion, or who are slightly mentally off balance, but I think that the cold-blooded, calculating murderer—who is the man more nearly contained within the definition of the term, if the law is altered—is more open to influence.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington. South (Sir P. Spens) that the only way in which one can form an opinion of the influence of the death penalty, apart from statistics, is to consider one's own reaction. I have no idea how the threat of death would affect anybody else, but I am quite convinced that, knowing that I was very, very likely to be caught, and that if I were I might be put to death as a penalty. I would be very much more deterred than if I realised that the penalty was only imprisonment.
I would gladly welcome any measures designed to exclude from the category of murderer everybody but the cold-blooded, calculating man who deliberately sets out to take the life of another. For him I have come to the conclusion, with some reluctance, that the law relating to the death penalty should not be altered.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. G. H. R. Rogers (Kensington, North)
This is the first time in over ten years' membership of this House that I have had the experience of following a maiden speaker. I listened with pleasure to the words of the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins). I have been astonished at the extraordinary self-possession of the latest batch of newcomers to this House. When I came here in 1945, owing to the large number of new Members I had to wait several months before I could make my maiden speech, and by the time my turn came I was a mass of nerves. My experience of first addressing this House was as bad as that when I addressed my first open-air meeting, at the age of 17. As a result, I have always imagined that maiden speakers will suffer from the same nervousness as I did, but I am astonished at the self-possession shown by the hon. Member for Merton and Morden. I was going to say that we shall look forward to his contributions when he gets used to the House, 2593 but it seems that he has already done that. Nevertheless, I am sure that I echo the views of all hon. Members when I say that we look forward to his further contributions with great pleasure. I congratulate him on his first performance.
The debate on this very solemn occasion has justified the high traditions set by the House in such matters. I have been struck adversely by some of the speeches, particularly by that of the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), the ex-Attorney-General. I am sorry that he is not now present, because I wanted to tell him that I thought the tone of some parts of his speech was deplorable. I am sorry, too, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) is not here—I wished to say a few words to my junior Member for Kensington.
I am very glad that the Home Secretary is here, because at a later stage of my short speech I shall have one or two things to say about his remarks on the Evans case, with which I had rather more detailed connection than had most hon. Members. I must say that I thought his was the opening speech of a man who was finding it hard to make a case. I do not know whether other hon. Members got that impression, but I felt that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was straining logic to unbearable lengths and that some of his arguments were extremely flimsy. There was a good deal of special pleading in his speech. I was particularly struck by the force with which he asked us to provide almost demonstrative proof that the abolition of the death penalty would result in a diminution in the number of murders, or that some other penalty would act as a greater deterrent than does capital punishment.
Our whole history provides statistics that prove, if they prove anything at all, that capital punishment is not a deterrent. What figures there are ought to be able to prove that capital punishment is a deterrent, yet the Home Secretary, in a country which has no experience of the abolition of capital punishment, was asking us—with no experience—to prove our case, when from his own records and the experience of the country, he could not prove the contrary.
2594 It really is not good enough to dismiss the evidence of other countries in the light-hearted way he did. Admittedly, we cannot place too much reliance upon the experience of other countries—as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says, the social pattern, the population and conditions of life differ so widely—but one thing which we can infer with fair confidence from the experience of other countries is that the abolition of the death penalty has not caused a rise in the number of murders.
That is a fair assumption. It is true that those statistics do not prove that the abolition of the death penalty means that in this country there would be an immediate reduction in the number of murders.
§ Mr. Graeme Finlay (Epping)rose——
§ Mr. Rogers
I am sorry, but I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. I am in the full flight of my argument. I am trying to argue this rather closely, and I am afraid that if I give way now I shall lose the thread of my argument.
We live in a country which I lay claim to be one of the most civilised in the world. Our people are the most balanced in the world. They are kind to animals. The French think us stolid because we are so placid. We are not subject to the Latin explosions of temperament. The Englishman, the Irishman, possibly the Welshman—I am not quite sure—and the Scotsman are all examples of moderate living. We have read reports of the proceedings in the French Parliament yesterday, where there were riots, but even in this House we are not subject to any of those explosions of temperament which are characteristic of other races.
The Home Secretary has himselt admitted that we have a murder rate lower than that of most countries. That, in itself, is a proof that, as a people, we are not subject, as are other nations, to the ultimate explosions of violence. Yet we are supposed to believe that if we abolish capital punishment we alone, of all countries, will let loose upon innocent people a horde of murderers. There is no logic or force of argument in that comparison between the peoples of other countries and ourselves. In point of fact, we know that if capital punishment is abolished our people are likely to react at least with no less sense of responsibility than have other peoples. I think that the 2595 right hon. and gallant Gentleman drew that argument too widely.
I have always been an opponent of capital punishment. In my early days, when I joined this party—and I joined very early, at the age of 16—even in my adolescence I studied this problem, as one does, very seriously indeed. I came to the conclusion then that capital punishment is wrong, but I was at that time an agnostic and did not support the abolition of capital punishment for religious reasons.
Since then, in that field as in others, I have learned the error of my ways. I now believe that capital punishment is wrong because it is against the basic Christian principles on which our civilisation is supposed to rest. I may have a peculiar point of view, but it struck me as strange that the Home Secretary, when explaining and defending the present law, made no reference whatever to the Christian principles that are supposed to guide it, and did not suggest whether or not his new proposals—or the old law —had any relation to the ethical teachings upon which our civilisation is based.
I affirm that no Christian can say that the gentle Teacher from Nazareth would have supported capital punishment had He been in this world today. The woman who was taken in adultery—what was his answer to those who wanted the death penalty? He said:He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.How many of us here are without sin even where murderers are concerned?
There is a lot of violence about us. In my constituency there are "Teddy boys," and I have seen a lot of it. Those young men were boys when the war was on. They went to the cinema and saw pictures in which the commandos, the killers, the bombers, were their heroes. Young, impressionable minds were taught then that there was some virtue—at least at some time—in killing those who are one's enemies. Have we no responsibility now if, in that atmosphere of violence, so many of those boys have grown up believing that violence is not wrong?
How many of us have been into the lives of people charged with murder? How many have looked at and seen the influence of their parents or their surroundings? 2596 What do we do when we hang persons? Do we worry about what happens to the children of those who are executed? What steps are taken to see that their children do not themselves grow up to a life of crime and ultimately become murderers? What do we care about the effect we have upon the lives of the children of those we kill?
Christ said that we are all brothers in sin, and I believe that we ought all to be brothers in forgiving each other. I firmly believe in the Christian teaching of redemption. The soul which has sinned has a right to repent before it joins the great majority. That is a fact which ought to come into our consideration of the case. Let hon. Members bear in mind the Thompson and Bywaters case. The deputy-governor of the prison said, I believe, that Edith Thompson could have become a very good woman.
If we can redeem these people before they die, let them have the opportunity to repent of their sins and become useful citizens, then I say that that is better than subjecting them to the ghastly, barbaric, inhuman business of hanging by the neck until they are throttled and their spines are broken, which is a punishment unworthy of a nation which calls itself Christian and civilised. I believe that when we condemn people we ought to make quite sure that we ourselves do not bear some of the guilt.
Let me turn to the Evans case. I am sorry that the Home Secretary was so foolish as to be so dogmatic. His assumption and that of the former Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey, that Evans was guilty was a very unwise one. I will make him eat those words. Mark these words, Mr. Speaker: I will make the Home Secretary eat those words before I am much older. I had hoped to do it today, but the time will come when I will demonstrate that Evans was innocent and the judges were wrong.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) gave us this eloquent epigram on the subject, "The law can stand doubts as to its infallibility, but it cannot stand doubts as to its integrity." There are many people who believe that the whole business of the Evans case was not conducted by the authorities with the desire to find out the truth. Many responsible people have 2597 written to me on the subject—men of distinction in the legal world and other responsible people. They have told me that after long study of the Evans case— and one letter reached me only yesterday from an important person in the legal world—they had come to the conclusion that Evans was innocent.
I am surprised that the Home Secretary should be so dogmatic. Most of us believe, putting it conservatively, that there was at least a doubt whether Evans was guilty of the crimes which we say Christie committed.
§ Mr. J. Paton
Would it not be proper to say in relation to the Evans case that no jury in this country could ever have convicted him had the facts found out afterwards been put before them during the trial?
§ Mr. Rogers
That is my view.
In 1948, the House carried an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill abolishing capital punishment. If the House had been master and had not been over-ruled by another place, Evans would be alive today, Christie would be alive today, and the truth could be established.
When I went to see Christie, in Penton-ville Prison, I was not given full freedom to question him. The Governor of the Prison was there, the Secretary of the Inquiry was there and warders were there, and I was limited to a particular item of evidence about which I was allowed to talk to Christie.
I feel sure that if I could have been alone with Christie as I was with Ruth Ellis I might have got much further; but I was not allowed to develop the point as I thought. At the time I saw Christie he was waiting to hear the result of his plea for clemency, waiting to hear whether he would be reprieved. I was asking him to confess to the murder of a child. He had not been convicted of the murder of the child, and, knowing Christie's mind, I would say that he knew perfectly well that if he confessed to the murder of Evans' child and thus admitted guilt of child murder as well as woman murder his hopes of a reprieve would have gone. If, on the other hand, Christie had known at that time that his sentence was a life sentence and that he had received the maximum sentence, he could have admitted to this crime without incurring a greater penalty.
2598 Had we been true to ourselves in 1948 the truth about the Evans case might by now have been made manifest to the House and the whole world. I think it is a lesson to all of us as to the interference which we should tolerate from others who are not democratically elected.
One of the terrible consequences of capital punishment—and the Home Secretary referred to this—is that so many innocent people are punished with the guilty. I should like the Home Secretary to talk to Evans' mother and to his sisters and to see the life they have had since Evans was convicted. We all know that the relatives of the condemned man suffer. That is bad enough when the man is guilty, but if there is a possibility that Evans was not guilty, as his mother believes, how much worse for the relatives? How much worse for those who are relatives of a person who was hanged but was not guilty? We must remember that when we advocate capital punishment we are punishing not only the murderer, but also many innocent people. We ought to bear that in mind.
May I tell the House of an incident in the Ruth Ellis case? The headmaster of a school near my home said that on the morning of the execution he went into the playground and saw four boys under the age of 11 all standing still, one with his watch in his hand. One was saying to the others, "Only four more minutes and she is going to swing. One, two, three, four; she has had it, boys." Can we justify that effect upon these young minds, caused by the infliction of capital punishment? What sort of effect will that have upon youthful minds as they develop? We are punishing these boys and these child minds by the retention of this barbaric punishment.
Ruth Ellis had a son—a poor little lost waif. I took that boy into my home to try to save him from the horror of the day of execution. Anyone in my circumstances would have done the same. Can hon. Members imagine the agony experienced by my wife and children when they had to pretend to that fatherless boy that everything was normal when, at that time, his mother was being taken from the condemned cell to be hanged?
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)
I ask for the indulgence of the House, the more so on this occasion because it is impossible for me to make 2599 a speech which is not controversial, although I realise that on an occasion such as this I should try to be non-controversial. I have the deepest respect for those who hold views different from mine about capital punishment.
Like many hon. Members, I have had numerous letters from constituents on this subject, and I have read with the greatest care every letter which I have received from the people of South Antrim. Just as in other parts of the country, some constituents are on one side in this issue and some are on the other. I want to thank the people who have written to me, because their letters have been of help.
This is a subject about which one must think long, search one's conscience and make up one's own mind, regardless of the popularity or unpopularity of that decision. I have done so on the ground, and solely on the ground, that capital punishment is a deterrent. I am in favour of its retention, and I have come to this conclusion because I believe in the sanctity of human life. It has been said that those who are in favour of the abolition of capital punishment are forgetful of, or do not care very much about, the murderers' victims. That, in my view, is quite wrong. I do not think there is any hon. Member of this House who has not the deepest sympathy for the widow or the children or the relatives of a person who has been murdered, for the anguish and the grief they suffer. We must not, however, in my view, allow sentiment, either for the victim or for the murderer, to play a part in any decision.
We should consider—and I submit that it is the main consideration—the potential victims, not the actual victims. The State and we in this House owe a duty to innocent people, old and young, who go about their jobs in the world peacefully. There is too much of violent crime today. Innocent people are being killed because the criminal believes that his right is might; he has no regard for the sanctity of human life, and I believe we must see that the Queen's peace is kept and that right and law are the rule in this land. The State and we in this House owe a duty to members of the police forces, men and women like ourselves, whom we ask to keep peace in the country; whom we ask, in their everyday dealings, to meet with violent criminals and to run the risk of being 2600 killed as they go about their ordinary duties.
I know it is said that capital punishment is no deterrent. We have heard in the debate today figures and statistics. I have tried in my own way to assess the arguments for and against; I have tried to assess the figures from countries which have abolished capital punishment and from countries which have retained capital punishment. It seems to me statistically, because there are so many elements involved, that any such comparison is valueless. I cannot prove by figures that capital punishment is a deterrent or that it is not a deterrent, and I doubt very much if anyone can. Why, then, do I think and believe that capital punishment is a deterrent? On one occasion in my life I had grave temptation to commit a murder. One of the factors which influenced me was the fear of hanging. I think today that if ever the temptation came again I should still find hanging a deterrent.
I do not wish to detain the House, because many hon. Members want to speak in the debate. I believe in the sanctity of human life. I believe murder is an evil thing. I believe that capital punishment is a deterrent, and because of that I shall support this Motion and vote against the Amendment. I hope the House, too, will support the retention of capital punishment, and I think that the majority of people in the United Kingdom will have the same hope.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)
The House will understand that in rising to speak at this Box I shall not today be expressing the collective opinion either of the Opposition Front Bench or of my hon. and right hon. Friends, but shall be speaking for myself. My only official duty is to put formally on the record the fact that for us on this side, as for hon. Members opposite, this is an entirely free vote.
Like my hon. Friend for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers), I also have for the first time the pleasure of following a maiden speaker, and I have great satisfaction in congratulating the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Knox Cunningham) on a most sincere and clearly delivered speech. He picked on what I must say has always seemed to me to be by far the most important of 2601 the arguments that we have on this subject, the argument about deterrents. I will not comment upon the striking statement that he made to the House, that he had personal experience, except to say that his speech seemed to indicate that he is so normal and so serious-minded a person that he must be very untypical of people who are in serious danger of committing murders.
This is the third time upon which we have discussed this most important topic since the war, and each time there has been the same issue: is it necessary to retain capital punishment? Now, "necessary" is, of course, a question-begging word and people apply different meanings to it. I personally feel inclined to accept the formula that was used by Lord Waverley—not himself, I think, a supporter of abolition—in our 1948 debates, and quoted by the Attorney-General this time last year. He said that the justification for the capital sentence must be sought in the protection of society, and in that alone. Last year the Attorney-General accepted that, and said it was the test. I quote this because we hear a lot in our arguments about the burden of proof. I believe that that formula of Lord Waverley's puts the burden inescapably upon those who uphold the death penalty; it puts upon them the burden to justify it because it protects society as nothing else can.
On that subject the Home Secretary said two things in his speech today which seemed to me to be rather hard to reconcile. Early in his speech he said—I am afraid I can only quote from my notes, but I hope this is accurate—that in his view it was incumbent upon the abolitionists to show that the change was beneficial. A little later he said that the death penalty is justified only if it is likely to reduce the number of murders. That seems to me to come very much nearer to Lord Waverley's formula than what he said in his opening remarks. The question upon whom the burden really lies is very important when, as we all know, we are dealing with a topic on which absolute and conclusive proof in either direction is really not to be obtained and cannot be expected.
I was very glad that the Home Secretary did not offer the minor and rather imprecise reforms of which he spoke as 2602 a serious alternative to the two other courses, of retention or abolition. He said, quite rightly, that this is a straight issue between those two, retention or abolition. The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), who I am sorry is not in his place, seemed to make rather more of the deliberations of his Committee, to which so much reference has been made, and at least one hon. Member, the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins)—who also made, if I may say so, a very competent maiden speech—clearly regarded these reforms as being sufficiently important to form, in some way or other, a half-way house between the two major alternatives. I hope that will not be the view of very many hon. Members. It is perfectly clear—I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is confirming it by nodding his head at the moment—that the Home Secretary does not share that view, but that he, like many of us, believes those reforms to be at most marginal.
There are only three points I want to make about those reforms. First, whatever the public may demand, it certainly is not those reforms. They have no relationship to public demand but are very much lawyers' "meat." Secondly, there are, nevertheless, very real public anxieties about the whole question of the death penalty at present and these proposals do nothing whatever to meet those anxieties. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) suggested in a question to the Home Secretary, even if those reforms were adopted, they would have no effect on cases such as the Evans case, the Christie case, the Bentley case, the Ruth Ellis case, on the case where the Home Secretary—no doubt quite rightly —changed his mind about a reprieve at the last moment, or in a case where there was a mistake of identity.
§ Mr. Younger
Was there not also in the proposals of the Report to which I have been referring an exception in cases where firearms were carried? But for that, it may be quite true that the Bentley case would have turned out otherwise, but that exception seems to make what I was saying entirely accurate.
2603 An even more curious result seems to be that if something approaching the doctrine of diminished responsibility advocated in that Report were to be adopted —the Home Secretary did not specifically adopt it, but said merely that he would study it—would not the effect be that people like Haigh and Heath, clearly abnormal aggressive psychopaths, would escape the death penalty, whilst people like Ruth Ellis would not escape but would hang? I find it difficult to believe that that is the result which public opinion would wish to see.
My third point on these reforms is that one of the things about which public opinion is most exercised is the possibility of mistake by the courts and by the Home Secretary. That is a major anxiety. I was surprised that the Home Secretary made so light of it. These reforms, so far as I can see, cannot affect the likelihood of a mistake, and would leave the consequences of a mistake as shocking as ever.
I want to say a few words on the question of deterrents, which was the centre of the argument of the Home Secretary and of the speech by the hon. Member for Antrim, South.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Before the right hon. Member deals with that, will he consider the clear point that Bentley would undoubtedly have been able to put forward a defence of diminished responsibility, as he was mentally abnormal, irrespective of the question of constructive malice and that issue would arise in that case as in many other cases?
§ Mr. Younger
I prefer to leave the details for lawyers to discuss. This is not a lawyers' matter; I should have thought it would be very doubtful, on the evidence given, whether Bentley would benefit in that way. I could not help but be impressed by the fact that when challenged on that the Home Secretary did not take it upon himself to say any such thing.
Returning to the question of deterrents, there is of course much evidence, of a sort, on this topic. Since we have been asking ourselves so frequently what majority public opinion is on this matter, I should like to consider the relationship of evidence to public opinion. I think it is clear that the wider public has not, and perhaps could not have, read the evidence 2604 which I hope most of us in this House have read. Not having read the evidence, it would be surprising if the public found it easy to reach the conclusions which most of us reach, because the conclusions to which the evidence leads one are intrinsically surprising—namely, that there is not anything uniquely deterrent about the death penalty. We cannot expect people who have not read the evidence easily to accept that conclusion, although I think it is beyond doubt—while not statistically provable—that the majority who have read the evidence have come to a conclusion that it is not a uniquely deterrent penalty.
I think the evidence stops only just short of being conclusive. When the Home Secretary was dealing with this question, I thought he was demanding that we who are for abolition should prove the unprovable. I really doubt whether it would be possible to conceive of evidence becoming much stronger than it is against the view that death is a uniquely deterrent penalty. It could only become stronger in the sense that other countries which have abolished the penalty, will be able to provide evidence over a longer period. It seems very unlikely indeed that the evidence for abolition could ever become much more conclusive than it is now.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Member, but I think his hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers) also referred to what I said about deterrents. Practically the whole way through that passage I was quoting in effect from the Report of the Royal Commission and a summing up of their evidence was that there were no statistics to prove it either way. That was quoted from the evidence of the Commission itself.
§ Mr. Younger
I think I made it clear that I accept the fact that there is no conclusive evidence either way. That is what the Royal Commission said, but anyone who reads the evidence must, I think, feel that there is a great body of evidence tending in the one direction— but not amounting to proof—and, on the other hand, an extraordinary absence of evidence. It is surprising how many people who come to the problem with open minds become convinced. I can quote my own case. I had no particular 2605 views on this matter when I went to the Home Office, but in the Home Office, I became convinced that the death penalty was unnecessary. We have a much more important example in Sir Ernest Gowers himself. We also have had two ex-Home Secretaries today and, as everyone knows, there is a third in another place, all of whom, after long experience, and reading the recent evidence, have reached the same conclusion.
I believe this is no longer a matter where decision has to be taken between two evenly balanced bodies of evidence, but, on the contrary, it is an issue between those who, having looked at the evidence, are willing to follow where the evidence leads and those who very sincerely maintain their belief that the death penalty should be retained on other grounds altogether. One may call them religious or moral grounds, or sometimes, it seems to me, almost mystical grounds, but never grounds based on the weight of evidence.
There was one interesting instance of that in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) today. He is a person trained in the value of evidence throughout his lifetime. I quote, I think verbatim, what he said: "No argument, no statistics whatsoever, will convince me that death is not a unique deterrent." One cannot talk to people in that frame of mind and argue with them when, in advance, they say that no argument—not only no statistics —will convince them. That is not in fact an argument, though it is a point of view which I recognise to be quite sincere.
I want to refer to only one type of evidence seeming to favour retention—the evidence of the police, who I think are entitled to respect. They certainly live closer to the problem of crime than most of us and they are said—the majority of them—to believe that without the death penalty more criminals would carry arms, and would probably use them. The police cannot in any absolute sense be proved wrong about that in advance. All I would say is that nowhere does experience bear out that view where abolition has taken place.
Therefore, I say, with the deepest respect to them, that their view is a hunch of men of great experience, but nevertheless a hunch, and not a conclusion based 2606 upon evidence at all. I think it is on a par with the equally expert opinion which was long held by admirals and generals, who feared in the days when Service discipline was based on severe flogging, that it would fall to pieces if it was abandoned. They were long unanimous in that opinion and long delayed the reform, but when the reform came, none of their fears was realised.
I had intended to say something about the question of the necessity for arming the police if the death penalty was abolished, but I think quite frankly that the Home Secretary dealt with that himself. He did not seem to think that there was much connection between arming the police and the question whether there is or is not a death penalty in force.
I wish to deal with one other important point—the alternative to capital punishment. Anybody who reads Chapter 11 of the Royal Commission's Report is bound to reach the conclusion that, although there are difficulties about this, they are certainly not insuperable. Quantitatively, it is a small problem, involving probably a dozen or so murderers hanged per year, and, cumulatively, reaching perhaps as many as 250, which is a fairly generous guess. Qualitatively, compared with other criminal offenders, the evidence of the Royal Commission's Report shows that, if anything, murderers are less likely, not more likely, to revert to crimes of violence, unless they are in some degree abnormal. The abnormal class of criminals, especially aggressive psychopaths, requires special handling in any event, whether they happen to be in prison for murder or, as is often the case, for something else.
The Report of the Royal Commission tells us—and this is different from the experience of 20 or 30 years ago—that we should not shrink from contemplating the occasional sentence of 15 to 20 years' imprisonment. That is a grim thing to contemplate. I thought the Home Secretary painted such a grim picture of what it would be like, in comparison with the relative shortness of the sentences of imprisonment for other offences than murder, to which he referred later, that it ought to have led him to the conclusion that the difference was so striking as to make the long sentence an adequate deterrent. But he did not draw that deduction.
2607 In any case, it seems to me that the number of abnormal murderers who could never be safely released would be minute. They would have to be provided for in special institutions rather of the type of what I believe is known as the East Hubert Institution, which is now being introduced into this country and of which there are prototypes abroad which exist now. To retain the death penalty and kill a dozen of these people each year will not solve the problem. We have people in our prisons, and even in Broadmoor, whom it is extremely difficult to place in a category of either insanity or abnormality, and abolition would make only a tiny numerical addition to the existing problem, which must be coped with by the prison system.
Finally, we are among the last in democratic Europe to dispense with the death penalty, and, therefore, even if one thinks the analogy with other countries is imperfect, surely this is not the kind of leap in the dark which the Home Secretary suggested? Moreover, in Britain the death penalty for murder is the last of a very long list of violent physical punishments which were once enforced here and were inherited from what was in the old days a very savage penal law. We have got rid of all the others without any ill effects, though on every occasion they were foreseen, almost in the same terms in which they are being foreseen today. I think we should abolish this last remnant today. I believe that both the House and the country are ready for the step. I very much agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) that this form of punishment will, in any event, go soon.
I, therefore, ask those few who may still be undecided, whose vote may be decisive tonight, not to put upon their consciences the burden of having delayed, through their indecision and infirmity of purpose, a reform which will surely come soon and which so many of their countrymen believe to be long overdue.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
I am one of those on this side of the House who intend to vote for the Amendment. I should like, in a very few minutes, because so many of my hon. Friends and other hon. Gentlemen wish to speak, to explain the 2608 reasons why. In both speaking and voting in this way, I am very conscious of the fact that a majority of my constituents, were they in the same position, would speak and vote in the opposite sense. I only go against a majority wish, so far as my own constituency is concerned, because I believe that this is truly a matter of individual conscience and of judgment.
One often hears, and one has read in many leading articles in the last few weeks, accusations that those who favour the abolition of the death penalty are swayed by purely emotional motives. I would say that there is a very strong emotional element in the decision which we have to take tonight, and it would be quite wrong to say that we must make up our minds upon facts only, when the facts are not always obtainable.
We have to decide whether the death sentence is both necessary and right. I believe that it is both unnecessary and wrong. I believe that if we were able to do away with it tonight, we should not find that the crime for which it is now imposed would increase in any substantial degree.
Many countries have made this experiment, and we, to our shame, are not in the vanguard, but one of the very last of the civilised countries to follow their example. The advantage has been that the rest of the world has acted as a laboratory for this experiment, and we are being asked by the Home Secretary to ignore the evidence of other lands. I cannot find it in myself to do that. My right hon. and gallant Friend has said that we cannot clearly weigh up their experience with our possible experience because we are different in customs, in temperament, in history and even in our statistical records. I think he also said, quoting the Royal Commission, that it was only in the case of Belgium that we were able to make a clear comparison. I do not follow that argument.
§ Mr. J, Paton
Is there not in this matter a misunderstanding which has been haunting this debate for the whole afternoon since the time of the Home Secretary's speech? Obviously, there could be no comparison between the different countries. Is not the proper use of these statistics to compare the volume of murders within one single country before and after the death penalty was abolished?
§ Mr. Nicolson
That is certainly so, but I think that the statistics can be used to an even greater extent. If we take the countries of Western Europe, such as the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy or the Scandinavian countries, we find there people who are temperamentally not very far removed from ourselves, and we are here dealing with murder, as a basic emotion. What is true of them is surely true not only of Western Europe but of practically the whole of the human race.
I wish to ask further why my right hon. and gallant Friend has dismissed so lightly the statistical evidence in each of those countries. It seems to me that when capital punishment is abolished and the rate of murders does not go up, that is a substantial proof that the supposed deterrent was not in fact a unique deterrent at all. If a motor car runs at exactly the same speed whether the brakes are on or off, surely it is an indication that the brakes are not working. It is a perfectly fair argument to say that were we to abolish the death penalty now, the crime rate would not go up, because the experience of other and very similar countries has proved it.
Furthermore, let us look at the issue from the moral point of view. It has been said—I think by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)— that there is in a sense a conflict between the Old Testament and the New. Personally, I prefer the New Testament. If we could look forward, I think it is very unlikely that it would be found that this capita] sentence was still in existence in fifty years' time.
I have always found it useful, when making up my mind upon moral issues, to ask myself whether, if the penalty did not exist, I would introduce it. I put that question to myself in regard to capital punishment: if capital punishment had been abolished here twenty or thirty years ago, would we now be debating whether it should be reintroduced? Of course we would not.
§ Mr. Finlay
Is my hon. Friend aware there are at least two States of the United States of America which, after discontinuing the death sentence for a long time, have restored it, and that in New Zealand it was abolished in 1941 and re-established in 1945?
§ Mr. Nicolson
I am speaking of the moral issue, and I am asking my hon. Friends whether, if we were free of this penalty, we should now discuss reintroducing it on moral and other grounds; and I say that we should not.
If this penalty is abolished, we are still left with a deterrent. So many people have been arguing that to abolish the death penalty immediately would let loose a flood of murders and other crimes of violence. But there would still be in existence other deterrents. One of them is the long term of imprisonment. Quite apart from that, another and even greater deterrent is the reluctance and repugnance which every human being feels in taking another's life. That is a very strong deterrent indeed.
I know that my right hon. and gallant Friend feels that the safety of the police and of prison officials will be endangered if the capital penalty is removed because its deterrent will no longer apply. But it has been found that those who have been convicted of murder and have been reprieved are among the most docile of prisoners. At this very moment, some 110 convicted and reprieved murderers are walking about the country after having served a sentence of imprisonment. In only one case, I believe, has a second crime of violence been committed.
So long as convicted murderers are alive in prison, there is a double chance: first, that any mistake can be rectified, and, secondly, that they themselves can be reformed. By reformation, I do not mean that they can ever wholly expunge the great crime they have committed but that they may become conscious that it is a crime of the first magnitude and that they may thereafter lead the life of a perfectly decent citizen.
I would put this further question. We have assumed that murder is the most horrible crime of all and that it quite outclasses any possible crime which can be committed by one human being against another. I wonder whether that is true. I wonder whether the crime of rape against a small child is not as bad, or even worse. I wonder whether we have got it in proportion when we say that this crime should be punished with this punishment, which is different not only in degree, but in kind. [An HON. MEMBER: "So is the crime."]
2611 I wonder whether we pay sufficient attention to the distinction that the law makes between attempted murder which succeeds and attempted murder which fails. I cannot help remembering that a year ago, within a few months of each other, two women committed the same crime. They both shot their lovers with revolvers. In one case the bullet hit the target, in the other case it missed by a fraction of an inch. In the first case, the woman is dead—hanged—and in the second case, she is now walking about free. It strikes me that any system which can allow for such an appalling difference of penalty for so slight a difference of crime is a wrong system. I believe that on this point alone the lack of differentiation between an attempted murder which succeeds and an attempted murder which does not is sufficient basis for the abolition of this penalty.
The final decision of this House, which will be expressed in a few hours' time, rests upon very few of us. I understand that the Labour Party as a whole is unanimously in favour of abolition. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There may be some exceptions.
§ Mr. Nicolson
Most of my hon. Friends, as has been evidenced from the reactions to my speech, are in favour of its retention. I cannot be certain that I am right, and yet I know that if there are thirty or forty upon my side of the House who agree with my attitude, the Amendment will be carried tonight. If there are as few as twenty, it will be lost. And so it is with a deep consciousness of the importance of what I am saying that I earnestly ask my hon. Friends to think once more and to vote for the Amendment.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)
The hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) has maintained the high level which has characterised the debate and I shall try not to fall below the high standard that has been set throughout. I hope that the House will not mind if I make a short reference to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). He made a great speech, his best for a very long time. 2612 It brought great joy to the hearts of his friends. Quite clearly, he is not finished —far from it—and we, or some of us, at any rate, hope that very soon he will resume a high place in the counsels of my party.
Having said that, I am sorry to have to say that I did not accept my right hon. Friend's conclusions. I do not think the law on killing is at all satisfactory, and I should have thought that some modification might be desirable; but it is a complicated business and I see the difficulties. Even now, I am not quite convinced that, because of those complications, the present system may not be the best.
Clearly, a distinction must be drawn between the distraught mother who disposes of her imbecile son because she is no longer able to look after him, and the poisoner who murders for gain—that was Seddon—and another poisoner who murders to get rid of his wife because of his attachment to another—that was Armstrong.
§ Mr. Evans
Quite clearly, there should be a distinction between those two types of case, and if it is possible, I should like to see that distinction given legal reality.
The hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch used the word "civilised." I suppose the argument is that those who do not accept the abolitionist case are uncivilised. I do not mind. I take it, and I deal it out. Those who cannot do both should not be in politics, but I think that we had better be careful. We have had a great deal of advice from the cloistered seclusions of college and cathedral close in the last few days, and such words as "primitive" and "barbaric" have been used.
We should ask ourselves what we mean by "civilised." Are our Canadian kinsmen uncivilised? They have not done away with the death penalty. Are our American friends uncivilised? I should have thought that a nation whose philosophy and way of life is largely based on the Magna Carta, on the Declaration of Independence, and on Lincoln's Gettysburg speech has reason to be regarded as civilised. I do not say anything of its standard of life, which is the highest in 2613 the world. Yet in only six of the 49 States has capital punishment been abolished.
There are those who say that Russian Communism contains the seeds of the highest form of civilisation that mankind has yet known. Have the Russians abolished capital punishment? They did, but they brought it back. Let me turn to what, in ideological jargon, is now described as the uncommitted part of the world—India. How many times have I heard my right hon. Friends assert that Mr. Nehru is the most enlightened humanitarian statesman in the world today. But Mr. Nehru has not done away with capital punishment.
§ Mr. Hale
My hon. Friend is getting himself into deep waters. If he pursues that argument he should vote for the abolition of the National Health Service and of the recognition of trade unions. Surely, if the argument merely is that India, with her vast numbers of uneducated people, has not had the sense to do it, that is an argument for abolishing every reform that the Labour Government has ever passed.
§ Mr. Evans
I do not want to argue with my hon. Friend. I should have thought that that was no analogy at all.
I think that this matter largely turns on the value of the death sentence as a deterrent. I will accept that. There is a great deal of argument about it and statistics are bandied about. I find it extremely difficult to believe that if the death penalty is abolished a criminal with a long record, knowing that he is due for a long term of penal servitude on being next convicted, will not be strongly tempted to shoot his way out of trouble in the event of being confronted by an unarmed policeman right at the end of what he would regard as a successful job. If the penalty for murder is to be no greater than that which it would be in any case if he allowed himself to be arrested, why should he not shoot?
I have been impressed by the fact that in only one of the European countries which have abolished capital punishment are the police unarmed, in Norway. This question of a deterrent is so important that I want to turn to one of the most civilised countries in the world for what I regard as evidence. Sweden is a country which enjoys living standards and standards 2614 of education that compare very favourably with our own, and Sweden abolished the death penalty in 1910. If the argument that the death penalty is no deterrent is a valid one, then we would expect that the murder rate per million of the population in England and Wales would be roughly comparable to that in Sweden.
Instead, in the three decades that followed the abolition of the death penalty in Sweden, had the murder rate in England and Wales been the same as the rate in Sweden there would have been 3,500 more murders in England and Wales. There would have been double the number of murders that took place. I remind the House that we are not dealing with a backward country in which living and educational standards are low. We are dealing with a country in which those standards are at least equal to those which we enjoy in this country.
§ Mr. J. Paton
Would my hon. Friend now tell the House what was the effect on the volume of murder within Sweden after the abolition of capital punishment?
§ Mr. Evans
No, I cannot. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is the point."] I have compared two countries in which living and educational standards are roughly the same and have compared the incidence of murder over the same period of thirty years in those two countries. We are entitled to draw from that comparison the conclusion that the death penalty may be a very useful deterrent.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I am sure that my hon. Friend would like to complete the picture. If he is comparing the rate of murder in this country with that in Sweden after 1910, when the death penalty was abolished in Sweden, then, to complete the picture he must, of course, give the comparative rate of murder in Britain and Sweden before 1910.
§ Mr. Evans
I am not frightened of figures.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South made the point that the House of Commons should not always 2615 wait for public opinion. I should be the last to suggest that authority must always wait on the consent of the governed, but in an adult, sophisticated democracy such as our own very great attention must be paid to public opinion on an important subject of this kind. I have had one letter, and over the last ten days I have been talking to all sorts of people—waiters, barbers, quarrymen, lorry drivers, shopkeepers, chambermaids, hall porters, and so on. I have not found anyone who is in favour of abolishing the death penalty where the murder was cold and premeditated. I make this distinction between cold, premeditated poisoning, planned and carried out over a very long period, and other types of murder, such as a joint suicide pact, because I hope that those who have not yet arrived at a conclusion will also make it.
Let me return to the question of public opinion. I see great danger of the House of Commons getting too far ahead of public opinion in an important matter of this kind. On 27th January, the newspapers reported a case of the brutal treatment of a little girl, aged 4, by what can only be described as a monster in human form. The little girl had been burned with cigarettes and flogged with the metal buckle of a two-inch leather belt, the flesh of her fingers had been torn away with steel pincers and, finally, she had been tied naked to the bedpost from eight o'clock at night until 7.30 the next morning.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)
Can my hon. Friend say whether this case has been decided at assizes or sent to assizes? If the case has not been decided, my hon. Friend ought not to prejudice the case.
§ Mr. Evans
The details have been published in almost every newspaper in Great Britain. There is a particularly full account in the Daily Mailof 27th January. There is no secret about this. The point which I am making is that the police inspector in charge of the case, when opposing bail, used these words,If this man is released on bail, the police cannot be responsible for his safety because public opinion in the neighbourhood is so incensed." But suppose the little girl had died——
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order. Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), but it does happen that the case to which he has referred is at the moment only in its initial stages. The man has been committed for trial, his answer has not been heard, he has not been tried and he has not been convicted. In the tradition of our House, it has always been said that it was wrong and unfair to prejudice a pending trial by comment in debate in this House.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I did not understand that the hon. Member was commenting on the facts of the trial. I understood his point of illustration to be that an officer, resisting bail, said that public opinion was so incensed that the man would have to be protected for his own safety; the illustration was in regard to public opinion.
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not wish to press the point or to make myself a nuisance about it, but I thought that the rule against comment on a pending trial was absolute.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The rule is absolute, but I did not understand that the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) transgressed it.
§ Mr. Evans
I was merely repeating again what I have said on a matter which has appeared in practically every newspaper. I was doing it to spotlight what I regard as a very great danger—that if the House of Commons gets too far ahead of public opinion in a serious matter of this kind, very serious dangers may emerge. That was the point that I wanted to make.
I think that since the war we have been on a somewhat slippery slope. This attempt to abolish the death penalty is the last of a series of acts which, I think, are tending to weaken the social fabric very seriously indeed. We are getting to the point where everything that a criminal does is explainable in psychiatric terms. These are the twentieth century medicine men. They have the answer to everything.
2617 A small boy kicks his teacher on the shin because his father was a professional footballer. If, later on, he clouts an old lady across the head with a lump of bicycle chain, that is because his mother was frightened by a horse while riding a tricycle at three years of age. Now we come to the death penalty. All can be explained. But the danger is that when these people have finished explaining, society is left with no defences because there are no longer any standards by which human conduct can be judged. They have all been washed away.
There can be no sanction because everything is explainable in psychiatric terms. I regard this as a very menacing situation. I said that I would sit down in 15 minutes, but I have been subject to a fair amount of interruption, about which I made no complaint. I would only say that I come from the Black Country. I was born in the Black Country. I know the views of the intelligentsia on this subject, but they are not the views of my Black Country constituents. They have a very healthy, sane approach to this problem. I have had one letter. If public opinion were so strongly in favour of abolition, as is suggested, I think that I should have had more than one letter. I had far more than one letter in connection with the Teachers (Superannuation) Bill. The plain fact of the matter is that public opinion is not yet in favour of a drastic change in the law of this nature.
§ Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Yardley)
Has it occurred to my hon. Friend that perhaps his constituents know him as well as he knows them?
§ Mr. Evans
That is a very flattering observation, because if it is true that they know me so well then it is very pleasing to me that they regularly send me here with a majority of between 12,000 and 15,000. I do not think that that helps the argument very much.
We abolished the death penalty temporarily in 1948. The first murder after that temporary suspension was that of Police Constable Donaldson, of South-gate. I shall vote for the Motion and oppose the Amendment because it is my firm conviction that if we abolish the death penalty it will not be long before we are compelled to arm our police, 2618 which, I am convinced, would be a very bad thing.
§ Sir B. Baxter
P.C. Edgar was the policeman in my constituency who was foully murdered. His murderer came up for trial two days after we had abolished hanging. He was the first man to be tried, he was reprieved, and he is still in prison, where he will be for many years.
§ Mr. Evans
I am talking about P.C. Donaldson. I have never challenged the motives of anybody who takes the opposite side to myself. I believe that they are animated by the same sincerity as I claim for myself. I think that the abolition of the death penalty for premeditated murder at this stage would be dangerous, and I shall go into the Lobby tonight in the firm conviction that I am doing the right thing, and in the certain knowledge that what I am doing has the support of tens of thousands of honest, hard-working, law-abiding Black Country citizens whom it is my proud privilege to represent.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye this evening because I have a special reason for speaking in this debate and I hope that the House will forgive me if I begin on a rather personal note.
When capital punishment was debated last year I was Joint Under-Secretary at the Home Office and I then voted with the majority; that is to say, in a sense opposite to the Amendment of this evening. I must tell the House that if the question were in the same form this 2619 evening—that is to say, if the choice lay between, on the one hand, no immediate action and, on the other hand, total abolition—I would now be in the other Lobby and I would wish to vote for abolition. It is right that I should state this at the beginning of my remarks.
In case anyone thinks that when I was in office my vote reflected my official position rather than my personal views, perhaps I may be allowed to recall that in 1948 I also voted for retention. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) invited me then to tell with him in that sense, and I said that I would not do so as I did not regard my views as being sufficiently strong. The change of view I have experienced, which is common to a number of hon. Members, has been a gradual process, brought about slowly as a result of the deep and anxious thought which all hon. Members have given to this subject and also, in my case, as a result of some first-hand acquaintance with the problem, though not the kind of acquaintance which I would have had as Home Secretary.
Having changed my opinion, it still seems to me to be wrong to adopt a dogmatic attitude to this question. Of course, there are deep emotional and moral considerations, and many of them have been expressed this evening. I would not for a moment try to cast doubt on the sincerity of those who hold strong views of that kind, but to me that is not the issue.
I do not think that the question which hon. Members will put to themselves this evening is fundamentally a moral issue. There are some who regard all deliberate taking of human life as indefensible, but they are few. I respect them, but I do not agree with them. I think that there must be cases where it is right to take life. For example, I think few hon. Members would say that if one found oneself armed with a lethal weapon, one should not use it to prevent a murderer from carrying out the murder which he was obviously intending. If it is morally right in one case to prevent a murder being committed, I do not see that it is necessarily morally wrong to do so in another case.
If it is once accepted that the deliberate killing of a murderer is not necessarily wrong, then the question arises whether 2620 or not the killing of a murderer after his crime has been committed prevents other murders from occurring. If hanging prevents murders, then I personally am in favour of hanging; if, on the contrary, hanging does not prevent murders, then I am against it. I believe that is the way in which the majority of hon. Members in this House and people outside it look at the question. The basic question is one of fact.
Unfortunately, the facts are incapable of proof. There is plenty of evidence of the kind which has been referred to during the debate. There is the experience of other countries which have abolished the death penalty. There is our own experience in the case of other offences which used to be subject to the death penalty, but which are not so now. There is the study of criminals themselves, both murderers and others. There is quite a lot to be gained from that, in spite of what was said by the hon. Member for Wednesbury.
All those facts shed some light on the problem, but they are not conclusive. Whatever answer is given—and there must be one—it will be subjective. It will be a matter of opinion, something within ourselves. Therefore, we can only say in this debate what we ourselves believe. I have never believed that the threat of hanging has had any significant effect on the individual who is tempted to murder, except for one class of case about which I want to say something later.
I believe that the sanction of sudden death is never as effective as it is commonly supposed to be by those who have not considered the matter. We have the everyday example of motorists and others who risk their lives. That applies to the ordinary man. The murderer is not an ordinary man and is not in an ordinary position. On the other hand, I do not say that the death penalty has had no deterrent effect. I have no doubt that the existence of the death penalty for murder has stamped the horrible character of this crime upon public opinion in a way that nothing else could have done, and nowhere is the force of public opinion more important than in the sphere of punishment.
I am sure that the horror in which murder is held has been a real deterrent to a good many people who would otherwise have been tempted to commit that 2621 crime and it has been mainly for that reason that hitherto I have voted against any change. I believe that that is true of a number of hon. Members.
§ Mr. J. Paton
I have been following the argument of the hon. Member with care, and I am very grateful to him for allowing me to intervene. Is it not the case that the potential murderer who thinks in terms of the possible penalty would be equally deterred by a long term of imprisonment?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I am afraid that the hon. Member has completely missed my argument. I have argued—I thought that the hon. Member agreed—that the murderer does not consider the punishment. What he does consider is the horrible nature of the crime and that is measured in public opinion by the punishment which the public has inflicted upon it; and that is the real effect of that sanction.
However, public opinion has undergone and is still undergoing a very substantial change. Indeed, if hon. Members consider what was said in 1948 and in 1955, and what is being said today, they cannot help but be aware of that change in this House and we are all conscious that there is a similar change outside the House. That change is of a real and permanent character. Of course, in matters of emotion it is possible for public opinion to be changed by a series of ephemeral circumstances, by propaganda, and so on, but in this case the change is not due to propaganda. I think that it is due to better educational and other standards. That is my opinion, and I can only express it as such.
I certainly do not think that there is as yet a great weight of public opinion against the death penalty. I agree with the hon. Member for Wednesbury about that. But I am sure that there is a genuine and growing feeling that the death penalty is inappropriate for a great many people who are now convicted of murder and I think that almost every hon. Member will agree with that. Even though all such murderers may be reprieved—and I think they are reprieved—as a result of the action of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary, any substantial weight of opinion of this kind must undermine and destroy that deterrent effect, which is the really 2622 valuable deterrent effect of the death penalty in this connection.
Having expressed that opinion, what action ought we to take? I believe that it is an opinion which accords with that of many of my hon. Friends and probably with that of some hon. Members opposite. I would have no misgivings about voting for abolition, except for one special class of case, and that is the case of the professional criminal. I am quite certain that that is the one case about which every hon. Member and most people in the country have some misgivings, the regular burglar or robber who knows that he will receive a long spell of imprisonment if he is caught. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will confirm that for that type of criminal terms of imprisonment have tended to get longer. Therefore, the force of my argument is, on the whole, strengthened. There is a real risk that such a man would begin to arm himself. I believe that this argument carries a great deal of weight and I can see only one answer.
I should like to see the death penalty abolished for all cases of murder except where the murder is committed in the course of a robbery or a burglary and with a weapon intrinsically likely to cause death. I appreciate that that leaves out completely the poisoner and many other types of what is referred to as heinous crime. But I put this purely on the practical basis that this is the one case where the punishment is really a deterrent. Carrying the argument to its conclusion, I put it as the one case where the punishment should be retained.
I have great difficulty in deciding how to vote. If the Amendment succeeds, that will be an expression of opinion that the House is in favour of total abolition. If the death penalty is totally abolished, I think we shall be creating this real risk, and one which I should be unwilling to see undertaken. To abstain from voting is merely to throw the reins over the horse's neck. The terms of the Government Motion are not incompatible with what I have said that I would like to see.
Let me say straight away that the proposals made on behalf of the Government by my right hon. and gallant Friend fall a good deal short of what I would like to see and, I am certain, many of my hon. Friends want to see. On the other hand, 2623 within the terms of the Motion I think we can get all we want. If any hon. Members feel themselves to be in the same dilemma as I am, I hope that they will vote for the Motion and against the Amendment. But I wish to say this quite expressly. I shall reserve to myself complete freedom of action towards the Bill which will follow the carrying of that Motion. It is on that basis that I shall go into the Lobby with my right hon. and gallant Friend this evening.
§ 8.37 p.m.
The Rev. Llywelyn Williams (Abertillery)
I have listened carefully to all the speeches and at the same time I have allowed my Celtic imagination to roam back into the past, trying to picture in my mind the House of Commons during the last century and during the first half of this century. Hon. Members sitting on the green benches of the House of Commons during the nineteenth century would in many respects be very different from the present hon. Members. Most of them would be wearing hats and many would have beards. But throughout the discussion on social legislation, increasingly enlightened during that century and the early part of this century, there would have been many Members using exactly the same arguments as have been adduced in our debate tonight.
HANSARD would prove without doubt that every time a Measure to provide some amelioration in the harsher aspects of existing legislation was introduced, the very same arguments were adduced as have been adduced tonight. History has vindicated, not those arguments, but the progressive Measures passed in this House of Commons. I am not a flag-waving "jingoist" by any stretch of imagination, but I am proud to think of the enlightenment which has characterised the social legislation of this country during the last century.
We must not be swayed overmuch by some of the considerations which have been brought to our notice today. For instance, it has been said that our greatest legal experts—Her Majesty's judges—are not in favour of abolishing capital punishment. I yield to no one, in this House or outside it, in my respect for our eminent judges of the Queen's Bench, and their ability to interpret the law of the land. In that matter they 2624 are monarchs of all they survey, and their right, I suppose, there is none to dispute. But I dispute their competence to speak with any special authority upon this type of question.
Reference has been made to the views of certain bishops. I want to speak carefully, and not disrespectfully, but the bishops of the Established Church are notoriously upholders of the status quo. They always have been. The greatest ecclesiastical luminary of this century, by general consent, was the much-lamented William Temple, a former Archibishop of Canterbury, and upon this issue he has given an unequivocal lead to the adherents of the Established Church.
Reference has also been made to police and prison officers. I join immediately with those who pay tribute to the special difficulty of their work, but even in their circle there is an increasing willingness and preparedness to think anew about abolishing capital punishment. Even so, I respectfully submit that these officers are so circumscribed and limited by the very nature of their work that they cannot give the perfect answer to this type of question.
The real answer to this problem should come from this place. We are the elected representatives of the people of this land, and we should be detached and objective. When I say that, I want it to be understood that I am in no sense seeking to monopolise sincerity or truth; I share both equally with those who disagree with me. But the final judgment must be made in this place.
Reference has been made to public opinion. It is true that some of our newspapers have conducted Gallup-type polls on this subject, and that the results show that only 40 per cent. of the people are in favour of abolishing capital punishment. I am not unduly perturbed at the fact that that 40 per cent. is not 60 per cent., or 70 per cent., in this issue. We have had two post-war Governments who have passed very far-reaching legislation but whose percentage representation of the total electorate has not been very much more than that.
Even so, since time immemorial, in moral issues there has been a lag between the leaders of thought and the ordinary man in the street. When people mention figures such as 40 per cent., I am not at all 2625 convinced. If the figure had been as low as 10 per cent. one would be more guarded and reserved, but with 40 per cent. in favour of this new step I believe that this House of Commons has sanction to move on in the right direction.
There are three considerations which I want to put to hon. Members. First, although the ground has been covered very thoroughly already, I want to deal with the argument about the unique deterrent effect of capital punishment. I am prepared to admit that all the statistics are not absolutely incontrovertibly in our favour, but such statistics as are available do give us the right to suggest that this punishment has not the unique deterrent effect which the retentionists would suggest. In possibly the majority of cases murder is unpremeditated—the result of some uncontrollable passion such as jealousy, revenge, envy or sex. The unique deterrent effect of capital punishment surely cannot function when murderers are in that psychological condition.
Surveying the last decades, I see that we have taken many steps to mitigate our penal code. Flogging has been abolished—but the same arguments were used against its abolition as are used by today's retentionists. I have recently been reading a book by a former hon. Member, Sir Henry Morris-Jones. It deals with his experiences—his harrowing experiences—as a medical officer in the First World War, when he had to be present at the shooting of prisoners who had deserted in the field. We have done away with that punishment. Will the Lord Privy Seal, when he replies, be able to give us any statistics to prove that there were more deserters in the field in the Second World War as a result of that punishment being abolished?
The only true deterrent is the certainty of conviction. Of all the arguments which have been bandied about today there is one which has not been advanced, and which I now put forward as a serious contribution to the debate. As I speak as a layman, I am fairly guarded in doing so, but in the light of what I have read and heard of many murder trials—and I am referring particularly to my own country of Wales—-I think that in many cases the persons charged with murder would not have been acquitted but for the fact that the jury were almost pathologically afraid of the resultant death sentence. Had there been instead a 2626 sentence of a long term of imprisonment I believe that the juries would have found those people guilty. Some of us have many mental reservations about some of the cases tried in recent years in the Principality, simply because there is this unique psychological atmosphere attaching to hanging.
That leads me to the second point I wish to put, and I shall touch on it very briefly. An unnatural and unhealthy atmosphere in engendered, and the Press is very largely responsible for it—and much shame to it. They are guilty of deliberately inflicting dangerous psychological damage on the minds of adolescents and children in schools. An, unhealthy sensationalism is attached to-these murder trials. I speak as a father and I know what my children discuss-when they come home from school.
It is not a good thing for the children of our land to be concerned at this tender age with such things as hanging and! death and such questions as, "Will he be sentenced to death or not? Will he be reprieved? Will the Home Secretary interfere?" I suggest that that is unworthy of the enlightened Britain of which I am so proud.
My final argument is a moral one. Capital punishment is a grim and horrible way of dealing with people who may not be essentially evil. Sometimes they are very decent people who have been overpowered by some passion, suddenly and without warning. By dealing: with such people in this grim and horrible fashion the State is tacitly admitting that there is one problem which is insoluble. I refuse to accept the inevitability of failure in that way. With all the advances in medicine and psychiatry today with all our modern developments in rehabilitation, not only physically in our great hospitals but also in our more enlightened prisons, I do not believe in the inevitability of failure.
I recognise that these people are guilty of a terrible crime. Let no one who opposes the point of view which I am; putting forward suggest that we are not mindful of the terrible suffering caused to the victims. I yield to no single person in the House in my abhorrence of the crimes committed. Nevertheless, it is my religious faith that man is not incorrigible and that redeemability is available. I believe the State should set an example 2627 to all of us, individually and corporately, in our various spheres, by at long last doing away with this terrible penalty.
There are more people opposed to capital punishment today than in 1948, and there were more in 1948 than in 1938. If the death penalty is not abolished tonight, let there be no mistake about it—it will be abolished, maybe in 1966. But we have the opportunity in 1956 to mark another date in the social calendar of Britain—the date on which capital punishment was abolished.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
In moving the Government Motion the Home Secretary expressed the hope, indeed I may say expressed his confidence, that the debate which would follow his speech would be on a level worthy of the gravity and importance of the subject with which the House is concerned today. I hope it will not be considered an impertinence on my part if I say that in my view his faith was well founded. We have had a debate on a high level and, whatever the House may ultimately decide when it comes to the vote, I think we may all go away satisfied that this important subject has been examined, that the two main views have been put forward and that the whole matter has been dealt with worthily.
I would not say that the debate has been free from emotion. I hope that this subject will never be debated or discussed without some emotion. If murder is a unique crime, the death penalty is a unique penalty, and it would not be human if the House or any other assembly were able to advocate the retention of the death penalty, or to advocate its abolition, without a proper feeling for the deeply moral issues that must inevitably be involved in deciding this question one way or the other. Let it not be thought, as is sometimes thought, that all the emotion, indeed all the sentimentality, is one way. It is just as much a sentiment, and by no means an unworthy one, to say, as some people do say, that the principal retribution demands that one who designedly takes away the life of another shall forfeit his own, as it is a sentiment to say that the sanctity of life is better served, better honoured and better furthered in refusing to do to the criminal what the criminal himself has done. Society should refuse 2628 to adapt its standards to the standards of the crime it wishes to eradicate.
I have taken part in too many of these debates to feel it possible to advance anything very new. Indeed, though I believe most sincerely what I have said about the level of today's debate, I do not think anyone would commend it in the first place for its originality, because the truth of the matter is that there are very few arguments either way on this issue, that most of us know them all, and that we have made our own individual assessments where in the end the balance of argument lies, and are unlikely at the end of this debate, after all the debates we have so far had, to be shaken by arguments now. Therefore, I propose not to deal with the abstract merits of the proposal that capital punishment should be retained, or that capital punishment should be abolished.
It is no longer a question of defining our faith; it is a question of deciding what we propose to do. It is not a problem of belief any longer; it is a problem of action. Looking as fairly as one may at the whole picture to see whether there is action on which the House could agree, I think it is fair to say that one can derive one or two propositions that would be acceptable to almost everyone who has taken part in the debate. The first is that, so far as I know, there is no hon. Member of this House who believes that the present state of the law is satisfactory. We are unanimously agreed that there should be some change. What is unsatisfactory about the law? I am not dealing now with the general principles that lead some of us to say, "Away with it anyhow," and lead others to say, "No, we ought to retain it." I am dealing with what may be thought to be common ground. The unsatisfactoriness of the present law, I think it would be unanimously accepted, is that by it we impose the same penalty —and that the ultimate penalty in our power—for everything that the law calls murder.
There is, I think, another proposition that would be almost universally accepted in this House. It is that nobody likes the death penalty any more than anyone likes murder. There is no hon. Member of this House—I venture to think—who would not rejoice if he felt that he could honestly and conscientiously vote for the abolition of the death penalty without 2629 doing harm to the principle of the sanctity of human life or the ultimate purposes of society. We unanimously agree that we must change the law. We must get rid of the death penalty if we can do it without doing more harm than that we cure. I think those two propositions would be accepted.
I think there is a third that is not universally accepted, but which might commend itself to many. There are, as we all know, deep feelings engaged on both sides. Those who accept both the propositions that I have advanced so far divide in the end into two classes—those who say, "Amend the law, yes, but you cannot and ought not to abolish the death penalty altogether; there are some murders for which you ought to keep it," and those who say that the risks involved, the difficulties involved, in applying any such solution as that are so great that it is better to abolish the death penalty altogether.
Where people are unanimously resolved to serve the same ultimate end but are passionately, deeply, sincerely divided as to the ways in which that can be done, it is in the British tradition to look to some kind of compromise which will give to both sides something, perhaps the bulk, of what they want without conceding the whole case to either. It is that, I believe, that gives its attractiveness to the notion —to which I suppose we have all been attracted at some time or another throughout this long controversy—the attraction of the idea whether we cannot in some way retain the death penalty for some capital crimes and abolish it for the others. It is an attractive proposition in many ways. If it could be achieved, it would take this country a long way towards abolition. There would be few executions and the doubts and hesitations of so many who hate the death penalty as much as I do, but who cannot persuade themselves that it is right to dispense with it altogether, would be satisfied.
Unfortunately, this is not a new proposition. If it were possible to find such a compromise as that, this controversy would have been resolved thirty or forty years ago. It is ninety years since—in 1866—a Royal Commission of twelve persons, only a few years after the reduction of the long calendar of capital crimes to four—recommended the amendment of the law to provide for degrees 2630 of murder. Even in 1866, five members of the twelve advocated the complete abolition of the death penalty, but the Commission unanimously resolved that if the death penalty was not abolished, at any rate the law should be amended by making degrees of murder, so that some should be capital and some not. That was ninety years ago.
The idea also has a recent history. In 1948, on a free vote of the House, we added to the Criminal Justice Bill a Clause suspending the death penalty for five years. That Clause was rejected by the House of Lords, and it was rejected very largely on the advice of the late Lord Simon, who warned the House of Lords that the House of Commons was too far in advance of public opinion. He said that the people might accept the abolition of the death penalty for some murders, but he went on to define specifically and expressly five categories of murder for which, he said, the people would never tolerate the abolition of the death penalty.
When the opinion of the House of Lords was reported to the House of Commons and the Bill came back with the Clause deleted and the House of Commons had to decide whether it would stand to its view or try to meet the Lords' view, the House decided that it would try to meet the Lords' view. I went to my right hon. Friend who was then Home Secretary. He and his Department kindly assisted in drafting a compromise Clause designed to give precise effect to the special categories which the Lords said ought to have the capital penalty still attached to them. I do not want to bore the House with quotations, certainly not at this time, but perhaps the House would like to hear what Lord Simon said of our effort to meet him.
Lord Simon was kind enough to refer to the compromise Clause as the "Silverman Clause." He did me too much justice. It was not my Clause. I did not like it, I did not want it, but I always try to be reasonable. I am always ready to compromise where I can. Certainly, I am always ready to make the best of a bad job. It seemed to me that if we could enact in 1948 the compromise which had been recommended to us by the Lords it would be worth while to do it rather than to go on with the death penalty as it was.
2631 I quarrelled with some of my hon. Friends because they did not want to accept the compromise. The compromise was carried in the House of Commons by a majority of nearly 100, and when it went back to Lord Simon he said:My Lords, I hope to follow the example of some who have gone before me and speak briefly, because at this stage it appears to me that this clause is simply shot to pieces. It is difficult to believe that anyone who has listened to the whole debate and has reserved his judgment throughout could come to any other conclusion than that this clause is rightly denounced as being a quite impossible and utterly absurd provision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,House of Lords, 20th July, 1948; Vol. 157, c. 1055.]We had done our best at compromise and Lord Simon was a great lawyer of great judicial experience. He told us that the attempt at compromise would not work.
What happened? Earl Attlee, then Prime Minister, said, "Well, we must accept the position, but if this compromise will not work let us see if we can find a compromise that will work. Let us not try to do it by bandying arguments throughout the course of an afternoon of House of Commons debate. Let us not try to do it by sending Clauses and criticisms backwards and forwards between the Lords and the Commons. Let us not do it in a slapdash fashion. Let us not do it carelessly. Let us see whether on a proper examination by experts who have considered all the evidence and who are themselves experienced people a compromise can be made which would be acceptable and workable."
I take it that that is why the then Prime Minister withheld from the Royal Commission the right to consider whether or not in principle the death penalty should be abolished or retained. The Commission was given these terms of reference.
…We have deemed it expedient that a Commission should forthwith issue to consider and report whether liability under the criminal taw in Great Britain to suffer capital punishment for murder should be limited or modified, and if so, to what extent and by what means…I need not read the rest of the reference.
The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) and some of his hon. Friends have produced another attempt, about which I hope to say a 2632 few words in a moment, but that was done recently and quickly.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The Committee was initiated in 1955 and we studied the matter through the whole of last summer and the autumn.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am perfectly certain that the work was done seriously, responsibly and conscientiously and with a genuine desire to help, but I am dealing with the Royal Commission, which did not sit for one year but for four years. It was the most influential and experienced committee it was possible to get together. It took an enormous amount of evidence in this country. It went abroad to all other countries where any such experiment had been tried and took evidence on the spot in all those countries. I will not deal with all its recommendations—some forty of them—but, with three somewhat paltry exceptions, if i may be forgiven for so describing them, the Government at the end of four years' study by the Commission and two years' study by themselves have rejected all the recommendations.
What did the Commission say about this attempt to find a compromise? It said:We began our inquiry with the determination to make every effort to see whether we could succeed where so many have failed, and discover some effective method of classifying murders so as to confine the death penalty to the more heinous. Where degrees of murder have been introduced, they have undoubtedly resulted in limiting the application of capital punishment and for this reason they have commended themselves to public opinion, but in our view their advantages are far outweighed by the theoretical and practical objections which we have described. We conclude with regret that the object of our quest"—that is, a compromise—is chimerical and that it must be abandoned.In advising us still to proceed with an attempt to find an acceptable and workable compromise, the Government are inviting us to set aside, to reject, to ignore the advice of the most powerful and influential Commission which had considered the matter with a desire to find such a compromise, if one was to be found.
I do not think that I have said anything with which any reasonable person can so far disagree. The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey and his hon. Friends have made another attempt. I have read 2633 their pamphlet. One of their number was kind enough to send me a copy. I read it with great care. It is not put forward as a compromise. The Home Secretary adopted its three main proposals. The Home Secretary put that forward as a compromise in his speech today, but the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey and his hon. Friends did not offer it to us as a compromise. They said quite frankly, candidly and honestly, "This has nothing whatever to do with the law of capital punishment. We want the law of murder altered because the law of murder is anomalous." That is what they say. They would equally want it altered, because it is anomalous, whether we retain the death penalty or abolish it. I am sure that I am right about that. Therefore, it has nothing whatever to do with our discussion today.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The point is that these anomalies should be swept away first, and then the question of whether there is the necessity to retain the death penalty could be considered afterwards.
§ Mr. Silverman
Of course, it could be considered afterwards but it could equally will be considered before. The hon. Member and his hon. Friends—I say it with deference, with some diffidence and with the greatest possible respect—in the view which the hon. Member has just expressed, are standing the argument on its head. I always knew that the view which he has expressed was the purpose of the pamphlet. I was coming to that if the hon. Member had not anticipated me.
§ Mr. Silverman
That is not the logical order. From the point of view of lawyers, these anomalies are of the greatest possible interest and importance, but so far as the death penalty is concerned they are important only because the death penalty exists, and they will remain of importance only for so long as it exists.
There would be no difficulty whatever, without altering the law at all, in giving effect to the distinctions which the hon. Member wishes to draw, if only the court were not hidebound from the start by the necessity to impose the death penalty wherever a verdict of guilty of murder is found by a jury. That is the trouble. 2634 We could give administrative responsibility—(provocation by words, provocation by blows, constructive malice—and the judge who was free to fit the penalty to the crime could give effect to all those without altering the law of murder. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman, in my humble opinion, is wrong when he says that is the logical order. It is not the logical order. The other is the logical order. If we must have an order at all let us deal with first things first.
In the end the question which the House of Commons has to decide tonight will not be answered out of the law books and the legal precedents. It will not be answered by statistics. I will not be answered by fine distinctions, nuances of legal or penal theory. In the end, it is a great moral issue which the House of Commons has to decide tonight.
I could not follow one part of the very interesting speech made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth). The hon. Gentleman said, and I agree, that if we can prove that with the death penalty there are fewer murders than without it, then the death penalty is justified. That is what he said; that I agree with. He went on to say, "You cannot prove that with the death penalty there are fewer murders than without it." There, too, I agree; but when he said, "Therefore, I shall vote to retain the death penalty," I thought that was a completenon sequitur and that he ought to have drawn exactly the opposite conclusion.
The onus surely is not on those who wish to abolish the death penalty. The onus is on those who wish to retain it. Every jury is told, "Do not convict this man if you have a reasonable doubt of his guilt." We are entitled to say to the House of Commons, "Do not retain the death penalty if you have a reasonable doubt of its effectiveness." Surely that is right. If there are those hon. or right hon. Members in the House tonight who are left in doubt at the end of the argument; if they are not sure, if they feel that the argument rests, in the end, on a fine balance and cannot conscientiously decide for themselves where it comes down, I beg of them, "Do not, by your votes, or by neglecting to vote, continue a penalty which in your hearts you know you cannot hold to on the evidence that would be necessary."
2635 Finally, over and above and beyond all these arguments about deterrence, about retribution, about the state of the law and about the onus of proof, there remains in all our minds, does there not, this fear that from time to time, at 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock in the morning, we take an innocent man out of a cell and break his neck?
I feel sure that many votes in 1948 were swayed by the assurances of Sir John Anderson and of Sir David Maxwell Fyfe that there was no reasonable practicability of an innocent man being convicted. Then, within two years, Timothy John Evans was hanged. The worst thing about the death penalty is that it can persuade a highly intelligent, responsible, conscientious, human man like the present Home Secretary, to convince himself— because he dare not believe the contrary— that Timothy John Evans was guilty, as charged, of the crime for which he was executed. Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman really believe now, in the state of the evidence, that there is no scintilla of doubt?
I conclude by saying that we have a free vote tonight and we are grateful to the Government for letting us have it, but a free vote imposes heavy responsibilities on each one of us. We cannot shelter behind party loyalties. We cannot shelter behind group opinions, behind the prestige of Governments or parties or Ministers or anyone else. We have to come to our own honest, intelligent, conscientious judgment, and vote as we believe to be right. I say to the House of Commons: let us as free men, free women, free Members of Parliament in a free society, go forward and wipe this dark stain from our Statute Book for ever.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I think that we should all agree that the House has responded in the spirit which we expected to the decision of the Government to have a free vote of the House. I would say at once, in answer to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), himself an ex-Home Secretary, that when we have a free vote, we naturally expect to base our actions, if perhaps after necessary further deliberation, on the decision of the House. The decision for hon. Members is therefore very serious.
2636 I am very glad that I was able to intervene for a few seconds in answer to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), because there really is no possible motive in my being asked to wind up the debate. It is a very onerous and serious responsibility and, frankly, not one which I would have chosen for my debut as Leader of the House. Nor am I speaking for political reasons, or because I am trying to sway any Member of my party. I am expressing my view and the view of Her Majesty's Government with as much responsibility as I can, and if my speech is not as good as it might be, it will at any rate be sincere.
That is the basis on which we all approach this very difficult decision; and I shall now do my best to put the point of view of the Government. It may seem peculiar that we have a Government Motion and a free vote, but I think that on this issue that is the right decision. The Government should give a lead, the Government have a mind on the matter, as I shall indicate, and the Government have great responsibility to the public on this matter as the supreme authority. We are therefore right to put down a Government Motion, and the fact that we happen to have a free vote is the right way to handle the debate.
I should like first to pay tribute to the maiden speeches of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Knox Cunningham) and the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins). They were heard with interest, and we look forward to their further contributions to our debates.
Hon. Members will reflect that this subject is one which ranks in the history of the House of Commons and Parliament as one of intense interest and poignancy throughout more than the last century. Looking back over history, I can think of two figures. One is John Bright and the other John Stuart Mill. John Bright was an abolitionist and John Stuart Mill was in favour of retention of the death penalty. There was another man who was a Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Romilly, who became an abolitionist and whose name should be remembered in the course of our discussions.
Today we have had an example of two ex-Home Secretaries, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South and the right hon. Member for South Shields, who have, in fact, changed their views as a 2637 result of their experiences, and all credit should be given to them for the sincerity with which they approached this subject in the course of the debate. On the other hand, we have the present Home Secretary, and his predecessor, now the Lord Chancellor, who adhered to the same views which they have held and adhered to them for strong reasons.
§ Mr, Butler
I was coming to that, if the right hon. Gentleman had given me a chance, because I am not quite so slow as that.
I was about to say that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who sits beside me has the same record as that of a singularly distinguished holder of his office, Sir William Harcourt, who spoke and voted for abolition in 1877, but who in 1886 frankly told the House that after his experience of being Home Secretary he had changed his mind.
Therefore we see in Home Secretaries, not only in history—on which I am not going to spend much time this evening— but also at the present day sincere examples of changing one's mind on this important subject. I have a feeling that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) who has just entered the Chamber is an ex-Home Secretary who has not changed his mind and who has very definite views on this subject.
Without detaining the House further on the historical background, which I think is interesting, if only to give a sense of responsibility to each and every one of us in coming to the decision in a few minutes, I think it reasonable were I to quote the definition, quite shortly, of the reasons why John Stuart Mill, that greatest of believers in human liberty, came to the conclusion that it was necessary to retain the death penalty. He said:Where there has been brought home to anyone by conclusive evidence the greatest crime known to the law; and when the attendant circumstances suggest no palliation of the guilt, no hope that the culprit may even yet 2638 not be unworthy to live among mankind, nothing to make it probable that this crime was an exception to his general character rather than the consequence of it, then I confess it appears to me that to deprive the criminal of the life to which he has proved himself to be unworthy … is the most appropriate, as it is certainly the most impressive, mode in which society can attach to so great a crime the penal consequences which, for the security of life, it is indispensable to annex to it.That singularly impressive view of John Stuart Mill is the view taken by the Government today—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is out of date."] The expression that a sentiment is out of date is I think rather short-sighted. After all it is not exactly the history of the human mind that truth is confined to this one generation alone, and I think it legitimate, in getting a sense of historical perspective on this matter, to quote someone who, I think was of distinct importance in history on this subject.
We now come to the recent history. The recent history was referred to by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who made a very temperate and reasoned speech. The recent debates, which took place in 1948, are still probably fresh in the minds of many hon. Members and the Report of the Royal Commission, which sat for four years and more, is a singularly impressive document to which all hon Members should pay the utmost attention. I do not, however accept the gloss on the Royal Commission's Report put by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. I believe that the Royal Commission's recommendations include certain reforms to which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary referred. In the opening part of my remarks I wish to make a short reference to the lines upon which the Government propose that the law should be amended.
We are in fact taking from the Royal Commission, not certain recommendations to which my right hon and gallant Friend referred, which we cannot accept, but the recommendations which we think will, to a considerable degree, improve the law of murder. It is to those that I wish, first, to draw the attention of the House before I come to the main principles upon which hon. Members will vote. First, I should like to make quite clear, in answer to Press comment and one or two speeches which have been made, that this Motion and this idea is 2639 no artful dodge of the Government. We have not in fact reached out and found the report of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald). We had already in mind the possibility of amending the law in the sense which I shall describe even before we had read the singularly competent report of my right hon. and learned Friend and his friends. Matters are put there is a very clear way.
We believe that a chance of amending the law does lie here, although, as I shall show, the issue tonight is whether to abolish or not to abolish the death penalty. I do not wish to shirk that issue; I think that I should be dishonourable if I did so. After giving a resume of some of the amendments, very shortly, I shall show that we are not shirking the question, and that that is the issue upon which hon. Members will have to vote. But I claim that attention should be given to some of the amendments, because—this is in answer to the point put by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas)—I believe that they will create improvements which will make things a little better than they were before.
First, I should like to dispose of another argument of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. We are not attempting in this case to define degrees of murder, nor are we attempting, as was done unsuccessfully by the Administration in 1948, to define crimes. I need not tire the House with a recitation of the history of those attempts—but they were unsuccessful, and I accept the hon. Member's view that any such attempt is impossible. I do not see that it can be done. The present Permanent Under-Secretary to the Home Office—than whom there is no more able man upon this question—in evidence before the Royal Commission said that cleverer men than he had attempted to define degrees of murder and had failed. I cannot believe that it is possible.
I think, therefore, that at this hour of night the House must face squarely up to the position that there are certain alterations in the law which can be made, but that the main issue is whether we do or do not retain the penalty of death. It is in that spirit that we can look at some of the amendments proposed.
Although I am not a lawyer, I believe that I have legal antecedents, and therefore 2640 am not too simple in these matters, and I have tried to put into ordinary simple language the forms of amendment which we have in mind. I hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will do me justice if I try to put them in simple layman's English. The first respect in which we propose to amend the law is in regard to the doctrine of constructive malice. It is called by the Americans "felony murder," which explains it more simply than the rather elaborate phrase of "constructive malice."
In essence, this doctrine prescribes—I quote the Report of the Royal Commission:that, where death is caused in the commission of a felony involving violence, a lesser degree of violence may justify a verdict of murder than would be necessary in other circumstances…If, as I hope the House passes the Motion and gives us the opportunity to amend the law in this respect, we propose to bring forward amendments in the law of constructive malice.
I am aware that proposals have been made to do away with this doctrine altogether. I am also aware that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey and his friends proposed that reservations should be made in the case where death was causedby a firearm, explosive (or other dangerous weapon) and the person charged was either himself armed with the weapon…or acting in concert with a person so armed…and was aware that the said person was so armed.That is a matter upon which I can give no final Government ruling tonight. I undertake only that we shall bring forward proposals to amend the law of constructive malice in as broad and satisfactory a manner as we can effectively do, and I ask the House to await our proposals.
The second amendment which we propose to make in the law of murder relates to provocation. To put this in simple language for the benefit of hon. Members, a killing which would otherwise be murder may amount only to manslaughter if done in response to such provocation as might cause a reasonable man to lose his self-control. For a good many years, however, it has been held that provocation by words alone was not sufficient to reduce murder to manslaughter. It is in this respect—while retaining the definition of the' reasonable 2641 man", according to the Report of the Royal Commission, and taking its advice upon this technical aspect of the subject— that we propose to amend the law relating to provocation.
The third main amendment relates to suicide pacts. At present, the survivor of any pact between two people to commit suicide, is guilty of murder. The Royal Commission considered that if the survivor had himself killed the other person he should remain guilty of murder, but that if had only aided, abetted or instigated the other person's suicide without actually killing him he should be guilty only of that offence and not of murder. The Government accept that recommendation, and that will be another feature of the amendments which we shall bring forward.
The last main amendment—putting it as simply and shortly as I can—relates to the Scottish doctrine and practice of diminished responsibility. Now this, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary mentioned in his speech, refers to that borderland not covered by the M'Naghten Rules, which deal with insanity. The Government do not propose to amend the M'Naghten Rules, but we do propose to investigate the possibility of introducing this practice and doctrine of diminished responsibility into the law of England.
In this connection I would say in passing, after consultation with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Lord Advocate, that there has really been no need for them to intervene in the debate—I say this in reply to Scottish hon. Members—because, in fact, in most of these respects the law of Scotland is as we would wish to see the law of England amended.
The Royal Commission referred to this doctrine of diminished responsibility in the following words:…where the jury are satisfied that a person charged with murder, though not insane, suffered from mental weakness or abnormality bordering on insanity to such an extent that his responsibility was substantially diminished, the crime may be reduced from murder to culpable homicide.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I intervene only so that we may know where we are going. Would this mean that Heath and Haigh and Christie would have been reprieved 2642 but that Ruth Ellis would still have been hanged?
§ Mr. Butler
I had decided before I began to answer that I could not giveobiter dicta on individual cases—I think that that would be most unwise—but I will take up the controversy which I read as between Professor Goodhart and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey inThe Times newspaper. There, Professor Goodhart, speaking of the consequences of our amendment, says:The strange result of this amendment, if it were conscientiously followed by juries, would be that such a person as Christie, who obviously was so abnormal as to be bordering on insanity, would not be executed, while more normal persons, such as Mrs. Ellis, would be hanged.I go on to read what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey says in reply:One would have thought that, far from being strange, this would be exactly the result that the man in the street would expect from a sensible law.In any case, I do not think that such an Amendment would lead to any malpractices or to any great injustice. In supporting the side of my right hon. and learned Friend in that controversy I should like to say that it would be very difficult to translate this practice into English law if only for one reason: in Scotland the jury act by majority. I am bringing out these facts because I have made it my business to try to master the subject as best I can in order to show that there will be difficulty in this respect-If we can achieve it we will achieve it, and that will be one of the amendments that we shall bring forward.
In answer to two hon. Gentlemen who raised the matter earlier, I should also like to say that this does not mean any derogation from the Prerogative as practised by the Home Secretary. It is most important that hon. Members should realise that the Prerogative will remain intact, and that the arrangements for the medical committee which the Home Secretary consults will remain intact, whatever may be our amendments of the law on diminished responsibility.
I have tried, in the early part of my speech, to give an indication of the manner in which the law will be amended but, having enumerated the amendments in order to give sense to our Motion, I must say that the object in general will 2643 be so to amend the law as to avoid the sentence of death being passed on a man or a woman, followed by the awful agonising wait for the possibility of reprieve and the terrible procedure which we all know is associated with the passing of the death penality. Apart from that, we are not avoiding the issue whether there should or should not be capital punishment.
I now come, therefore, in the latter part of my remarks, to this main issue. First, I must deal quite frankly with the problem only touched upon by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, namely, the case of Timothy John Evans. I do not propose to go into any individual case, but I will take up what has been said in the debate because I believe that hon. Members are inclined to base their judgment on the question whether innocent people are in fact being hanged, and they are liable to decide their vote tonight on the basis that in fact innocent men and perhaps women are hanged, and that therefore the death penalty must be removed.
I know this will create controversy, but I say it quite frankly and firmly: so far as I can ascertain from consulting the Home Secretary, his predecessor, and all the authorities whom I can consult, no innocent man has been hanged within living memory. I say that with a due sense of responsibility, and hon. Mem-bars can make up their own minds, but I say it after consultation, and with the purpose of enabling hon. Members to have a basis on which to decide.
I further say that the Prerogative under which the Home Secretary tenders his advice exists to see whether there are any mitigating circutmstances which would justify a reprieve in proper circumstances where the death sentence has been pronounced. In particular, we do not accept that there was a miscarriage of justice either in the case of Evans or in the case of Rowland. I think it right to say that, because it is our view that it may help one or two hon. Members to reach a decision apart from individual cases, and on the merits of the issue.
Our judgment should not be based on the erroneous belief that innocent men have been hanged. We should reflect that we have the best judicial system, I think, of any country of the world, and when we come to decide this question 2644 of the death penalty we should decide it not in an emotional state of mind but entirely on the moral issue as it affects our own minds.
In this connection I come to the reference to public opinion which was made by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South. The right hon. Gentleman indicated, with a nose for smelling out what is going to happen which is unparalleled in political life, that public opinion was coming along and that we must therefore gallop ahead of it. My opinion is that that is not the way that executive Government should behave about the death penalty. I say nothing derogatory about the right hon. Gentleman's nose.
There have been reforms throughout history. If Wilberforce were here with many of our predecessors in the great realm of social reform, they might say that there was a greater indication today of public interest in the abolition of the death penalty, but as I see the situation—and this is my answer to the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), who spoke late in the debate—the position is not at present ripe, in the view of authority, for an amendment in the law to abolish the death penalty.
Before I come to my concluding reasons for that, I want to examine and reject the Amendment moved by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not believe that an Amendment which involves a suspension is the right way to deal with this matter. I would rather come to a final decision than suspend the death penalty and have it reviewed again.
Let us Come back to the question of capital punishment—retention or not. Before I give the figures and the reasons which make the Government finally conclude that we are not prepared to recommend the abolition of the death penalty, I want hon. Members to examine a little more closely than has been done in this debate what is the alternative. The alternative frankly, which I do not believe many hon. Members have asked themselves, is what they would do with those murderers who, though not insane, could not possibly be allowed their liberty until they were too old and enfeebled to constitute any danger to the community.
2645 I think that what some hon. Members fear is the sense of finality in the process of hanging. What is the alternative? The alternative is, not a quick death, but a slow death and a lingering execution. Instead of the fear of finality there is certainty of an excruciating uncertainty which—and I quote from one of our most prominent experts on this subject— might "permanently impair something more precious than the life of the physical body."
When Dr. Methven, who was Deputy-Chairman of the Prison Commissioners, gave evidence before the Royal Commission, he drew special attention to the fact that it was the hope of release, ever present in every prisoner's mind, which kept that prisoner going and alive. If hon. Members decide to abolish the death penalty and, to use the phrase of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, the view that imprisonment is a good deterrent is accepted by the House, hon. Members will have to square then-consciences to accepting something which many of us feel is infinitely more cruel than capital punishment itself. I do not necessarily expect hon. Members to agree with me, but I do expect them to listen to the consequences which Dr. Methven and many other specialists considered would be the result of abolishing capital punishment and introducing another deterrent.
My last remarks are in relation to the prevalence of crime. The figures were
§ given by the Home Secretary, and I must say that I support what the right hon. Member for South Shields said in 1948, a copy of which I have here, when he said that in view of the offences, statistics and indications of crime at that date he could not recommend the abolition of the death penalty. I understand why he has now changed his mind, but the figures indicate now, especially in relation to sexual offences and to crimes of violence, that there is not a decline and that the position is disquieting.
§ Under the circumstances, the Government cannot recommend that they would be doing their duty to our citizens if they were to abolish the death penalty at the present time. The Government have a very serious responsibility. They have a responsibility for the sanctity of human personal life, and that is where the Christian ethic comes in. They also have a responsibility for society. I am not going to quote the Christian ethic in support of the Government's case. I am a Christian myself, and I believe in the retention of the death penalty. I say, at the same time, that my duty to society makes me say that under present circumstances it would be unwise for this House, without waiting for the amendments the Government suggests, to abolish the penalty of death for murder.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question: —
§ The House divided: Ayes 262, Noes 293.2649
|Division No. 110.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Brooman-White, R. C.||Deedes, W. F,|
|Altken, W. T.||Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Digby, Simon Wingfield|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Bryan, P.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Doughty, C. J. A.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Burden, P. F. A.||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)|
|Ashton, H.||Butcher, Sir Herbert||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Butler, Rt. Hn. R.A.(saffron Walden)||Eocles, Rt. Hon. Sir David|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Campbell, Sir David||Eden, Rt. Hn.sir A.(Warwick &L'm'tn)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Cary, Sir Robert||Eden; J. B. (Bournemouth, West)|
|Barber, Anthony||Channon, H.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Chichester-Clark, R.||Errington, Sir Eric|
|Barter, John||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston||Erroll, F. J.|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Conant, MaJ. Sir Roger||Farey-Jones, F. W.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Fell, A.|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Finlay, Graeme|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Fisher, Nigel|
|Bishop, F. P.||Crosthwalte-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.|
|Black, C. W.||Crouch, R. F.||Fletcher, Eric|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Fletcher-Cooke, C.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Cunningham, Knox||Freeth, D. K,|
|Braithwalte, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Currie, G. B. H.||Calbraith, Hon. T. G. D.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Dance, J. C. G.||Cammans, Sir David|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Davidson, Viscountess||George, J. C. (Pollok)|
|Glbton-Watt, D.||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||Rees-Davies, w. R.|
|Glover, D.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Remnart, Hon. P.|
|Godber, J. B.||Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Ramon, D. L. M.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Grant, W. (Woodside)||Longden, Gilbert||Robertson, Sir David|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.||McAdden, S. J.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Russell, R. S.|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macolesfd)||McKibbin, A. J.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Sharpies, R. C.|
|Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Shepherd, William|
|Hay, John||Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Macmillan,Rt.Hn.Harold(Bromley)||Speir, R. M.|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfrles)||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S)|
|Hicks-Beach, Ma]. W. W.||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, N.)|
|Hill, John (S, Norfolk)||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Marples, A. E.||Storey, S.|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Marshall, Douglas||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Hope, Lord John||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Mawby, R. L.||Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Horobin, Sir Ian||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. s. L. C.||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Molson, A. H. E.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R.(Croydon, S.)|
|Howard, John (Test)||Moody, A. S.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)|
|Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Moore, Sir Thomas||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Hulbert, Sir Norman||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Hurd, A. R.||Nairn, D. L. S.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Hutchison,Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)||Neave, Airey||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Hutchison, 8ir James (Scotstoun)||Nicholls, Harmar||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Nugent, G. R. H.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Oakshott, H. D.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, w.)|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot||Osborne, C.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Kaberry, D.||Page, R. G.||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Kerr, H. W.||Partridge, E.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Kimball, M.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Whitelaw, W.S.I.(Penrith & Border)|
|Lagden, C. W.||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Lambert, Hon. C.||Pott, H. P.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Lambton, Viscount||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, w.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Leavey, J. A.||Profumo, J. D.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Leburn, W. G.||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Legge-Bourke, MaJ. E. A. H.||Rawlinson, Peter||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Redmayne, M.||Sir Robert Grimston and Mr. Nield|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Benson, G.||Brown, Thomas (Ince)|
|Albu, A. H.||Beswick, F.||Burke, W. A.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Burton, Miss F. E.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)|
|Allen, Scholeffeld (Crewe)||Blackburn, F,||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Blenkinsop, A.||Callaghan, L. J.|
|Anderson, Frank||Blyton, W. R.||Carmichael, J.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Boardman, H.||Castle, Mrs. B. A.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Body, R. F.||Champion, A. J.|
|Baird, J.||Boothby, Sir Robert||Chapman, W. D.|
|Balniel, Lord||Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Chetwynd, G. R.|
|Bartley, P.||Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Clunie, J.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Cold rick, W.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Bowles, F. G.||Collick, p. H. (Birkenhead)|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Collins, V.J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury)|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.)||Brockway, A. F.||Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Corbet, Mrs. Freda|
|Cove, W. G.||Jones,Rt. Hon. A. Creech(Wakefield)||Pryde, D.J.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Cronin, J. D.||Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Ramsden J. E.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Randall, H. E.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Rankin, John|
|Dairies, P.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Reeves, J.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Keegan, D.||Held, William|
|Davies, Rt. Hon.Clement (Montgomery)||Kenyon, C.||Rhodes, H.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Kershaw, J. A.||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||King, Dr. H. M.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Deer, G.||Kirk, P. M.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Dodds, N. N.||Lawson, G. M.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Dye, S.||Leather, E. H. C.||Ross, William|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Ledger, R. j.||Royle, C.|
|Edelman, M.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Short, E. W.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Lewis, Arthur||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Edwards, W.J. (Stepney)||Lindgren, G. S.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Llewellyn, D. T.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||MacColl, J. E.||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Fernyhough, E.||McGhee, H. G.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Fienburgh, W.||Mclnnes, J.||Snow, J. W.|
|Finch, H. J.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Forman, J. C.||McLeavy, Frank||Sparks, J. A.|
|Fort, R.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Foster, John||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Steele, T.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Maddan, Martin||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Mahon, S.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R. (Ipswich)|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Malnwaring, W. H.||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mallalieu, J. P. w. (Huddersfd, E.)||strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. p. C.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Green, A.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Stross, Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Mason, Roy||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mathew, R.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Grey, C. F.||Medlicott, Sir Frank||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mellish, R. J.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Messer, Sir F.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mitchison, G. R.||Teeling, W.|
|Grimond, J.||Monslow, W.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Gurden, Harold||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Hale, Leslie||Morrison,Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S.)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Coins Valley)||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Mort, D. L.||Thornton, E.|
|Hannan, W.||Moss, R.||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Moyle, A.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Mulley, F. W.||Usborne, H. C.|
|Hastings, S.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Viant, S. P.|
|Hayman, F. H.||Nlcolson, N. (B'n'mth, E. & Chr'ch)||Vickers, Miss J. H.|
|Healey, Denis||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Wade, D. W.|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Oliver, G. H.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Oram, A. E.||Weitzman, D.|
|Hinchingbrooke, Vlscount||Orbach, M.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Holman, P.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||West, D. G.|
|Holmes, Horace||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Holt, A. F.||Oswald, T.||White, Mrs. Elrene (E. Flint)|
|Houghton, Douglas||Owen, W. J.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Padley, W. E.||Wigg, George|
|Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Deame Valley)||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Hoy, J. H.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Wllkins, W. A.|
|Hubbard, T. F.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Willey, Frederick|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Panned, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Pargiter, G. A.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Parker, J.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Hunter, A. E.||Parkin, B. T.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Paton, J.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Pearson, A.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Irving, S. (Dartford)||Peart, T. F.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Peyton, J. W. W.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Janner, B.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Woof, R. E.|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Popplewell, E.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Jeger.Mrs. Lena(Holbn & St.Pnot,S.)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. 0. L.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Probert, A. R,|
|Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Proctor W. T.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. de Freitas and Mr. Hyde.|
§ Question put, That the proposed words be there added:—2652
§ The House divided: Ayes 292. Noes 246.2655
|Division No. 111.]||AYES||[10.12 p.m|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Fort, R.||MacColl, J. E.|
|Albu, A. H.||Foster, John||McGhee, H. G.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mclnnes, J.|
|Allen Arthur (Bosworth)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon, H. T. N.||McKay, John (Walleend)|
|Allen Scholcfield (Crewe)||Garner-Evans, E. H.||MoLeavy, Frank|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Gibson, C. W.||MaoMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)|
|Astor, Hon, J. J.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Green, A.||Maddan, Martin|
|Baird, J.||Greenwood, Anthony||Mahon, S.|
|Balniel, Lord||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)|
|Bartley, P.||Grey, C. F.||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H, A.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Griffiths, R. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mason, Roy|
|Bonn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E)||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mathew, R.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Grimond, J.||Medlicott, Sir Frank|
|Gurden, Harold||Mellish, R. J.|
|Benson, G.||Hale, Leslie||Messer, Sir F.|
|Beswick, F.||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Mitchlson, C. R.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Hamilton, W. W.||Monslow, W.|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Hannan, W.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)|
|Blackburn, F.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Morrison,Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S.)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Mort, D. L.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hastings, S.||Moss, R.|
|Boardman, H.||Hayman, F. H.||Moyle, A.|
|Body, R. F.||Healey, Denis||Mulley, F. W.|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regit)||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Herbison, Miss M.||Nioolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Noel-Baker, Franois (Swindon)|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Hinchingbrooke, Visoount||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)|
|Bowles, F.G.||Holman, P.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Braddook, Mrs. Elizabeth||Holmes, Horace||Oram, A. E.|
|Brookway, A. F.||Holt, A. F.||Orbach, M.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Houghton, Douglas||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Burke, W. A.||Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Oswald, T.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Hoy, J. H.||Owen, W. J.|
|Butler Herbert (Hackney C.)||Hubbard, T. F.||Padley, W. E.|
|Butler, Mrs. joyce (Wood Green)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Carmichael, J.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Hunter, A. E.||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Champion, A. J.||Hynd, H. (Acorington)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Chapman, W. D.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Parker, J.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Irving, S. (Dartford)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Clunie, J.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Paton, J.|
|Coldrick, W.||Janner, B.||Pearson, A.|
|Collick P. H. (Birkenhead)||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Peart, T. F.|
|Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch&Finsbury)||Jeger, George (Goole)||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Jeger, Mrs.Lena (Holbn & St.Pnos, S.)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Cove, W. G.||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Popplewell, E.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Price, David (Eastlelgh)|
|Cronin, J. D.||Johnston, Douglas (Pauley)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creeoh(Wakefield)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Probert, A. R.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Daines, P.||Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Pryde, D. J.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Davles.Rt. Hon. Clement (Montgomery)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Ramsden, J. E.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Jones, T. w. (Merioneth)||Randall H. E.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Keegan, D.||Rankin, John|
|D'Avlgdor-Goldsmith, Sir Henry||Kenyon, C.||Reeves, J.|
|Deer, G.||Kershaw, J, A.||Reid, William|
|Delargy, H. J.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Rhodes, H.|
|Dodds, N.N.||King, Dr. H. M.||Rlppon, A. G. F.|
|Dye, S.||Kirk, P. M.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Edelman, M||Lawson, G. M.||Robinson Kenneth (St. Paneras, N.)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. john (Brighouse)||Leather, E. H. C.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaka)|
|Edwards Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Ledger, R. J.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Ross, William|
|Edwards W.J. (Stepney)||Lever, Harold (Cheatham)||Royle, C.|
|Emmet Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Evans Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Lewis, Arthur||Short, E. W.|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Lindgren, G. S.||Shurmer, P.L.E.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Fienburgh, W.||Llewellyn, D. T.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Finch, H. J.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Forman, J. C.||Mabon,Dr.J.Dlokson||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Skeffington, A. M.||Teeling, W.||Wigg, George|
|Slater, Mrs. N. (Stoke, N.)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Slater, J. (Sedgefield)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)||Willey, Frederick|
|Snow, J, W.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Sorensen, R. W.||Thornton, E.||Williams, Rev. Llyweiyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Sparks, J. A.||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Spearman, A. C. M.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Steele, T.||Usborne, H. C.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Viant, S. P.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R. (Ipswich)||Vickers, Miss J. H.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Stones, W. (Consett)||Wade, D. W.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Warbey, W. N.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)||Watkins, T. E.||Woof, R. E.|
|Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on.Trent,C)||Weitzman, D.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Swingler, S. T.||West, D. G.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Sylvester, G. 0.||Wheeldon, W. E.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Taylor, John (West Lothian)||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. de Freitas and Mr. Hyde.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Erroll, F. J.||Kaberry, D.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Kerby, Capt. H. B.|
|Alport, C.J. M.||Fell, A.||Kerr, H. W.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Finlay, Graeme||Kimball, M.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Fisher, Nigel||Lagden, G. w.|
|Ashton, H.||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Lambert, Hon. G.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Fletoher-Cooke, C.||Lambton, Viscount|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Freeth, D. K.||Leavey, J. A.|
|Barber, Anthony||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Leburn, W. G.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Gammans, L. D.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)|
|Barter, John||George, J. C. (Pollok)||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T|
|Beamish, Ma). Tufton||Gibson-Watt, D.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon N)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Glover, D.||Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Godber, J. B.||Lloyd Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Bidgood, J. c.||Gomme-Dunoan, Col. A.||Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Graham, Sir Fergus||Longden, Gilbert|
|Bishop, F. P.||Grant, W. (Woodslde)||Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. w|
|Black, C. w.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwioh)||Lucas, p. B. (Brentford & Chiswlck)|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Gresham Cooke, R.||McAdden, S. J.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Macdonald, Sir Peter|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Hare, Hon. J. H.||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry|
|Bralthwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||MoKibbin, A. J.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Harvey, Alr Cdre. A. V. (Macolesfd)||MoLaughlin, Mrs. P.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Bryan, P.||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||McLean, Neil (Inverness)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hay, John||MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Macmillan,Rt.Hn.Harold(Bromley)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Heath, Edward||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)|
|Butler,Rt.Hn.R.A.(Saffron Walden)||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)|
|Campbell, Sir David||Hioks-Beaoh, MaJ. W. W.||Maltland, hon. patrick (Lanark)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R|
|Channon, H.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Markham, Major sir Frank|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston||Hirst, Geoffrey||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Mawby, R. L.|
|Conant, Mal. Sir Roger||Hope, Lord John||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Homsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Horobin, Sir Ian||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Monokton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. 0. E.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Moore, Sir Thomas|
|Crouch, R. F.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finohley)||Howard, John (Test)||Mott-Radolyffe, C. E.|
|Crowder, Petre (Rulslip—Northwood)||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewlsham, N.)||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Cunningham, Knox||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Nairn, D. L. S.|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Hughes Hallett, Vloe-Admiral J.||Neave, Alrey|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Nlcholls, Harmar|
|Davidson, Vlseountess.||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Nioholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Deedes, W. F.||Hurd, A. R.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Digby, Simon Wlngfleld||Hutohlson, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh.W.)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. MoA.||Hylton. Foster, Sir H. B. H.||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwlch)||Orr-Ewlng, Sir Ian (Weston.S-Mare)|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Osborne, C. '|
|Eden,Rt.Hn.SlrA(Warwiok&L'm'tn)||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Page, R. G.|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Johnson, Erlo (Blaokley)||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Partridge, E.|
|Errlngton, Sir Erlo||Joynson-Hioks, Hon. Sir Lancelot||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Pitt, Miss E. M.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Pott, H. P.||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Price, Henry (Lewlsham, W.)||Soames, Capt. C.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Speir, R. M.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Profumo, J. D.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Raikes, Sir Victor||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard||Vosper, D. F.|
|Rawlinson, Peter||Stevens, Geoffrey||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Redmayne, M.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Remnant, Hon. P.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Ronton, D. L. M.||Storey, S.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Ridsdale, J. E.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Studholme, H. G.||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Robertson, Sir David||Summers, C. S. (Aylesbury)||Whitelaw, w.s.l. (Penrith & Border)|
|Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Sumner, w. D. M. (Orpington)||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Robson-Brown, W.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Roper, Sir Harold||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R.(Croydon, S.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Russell, R- S.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Sandys, Rt- Hon. D.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.||Touche, Sir Gordon||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Turner, H. F. L.||Sir Robert Grimaton and Mr. Nield.|
Question put and agreed to.
That this House believes that the death penalty for murder no longer accords with the needs or the true interests of a civilised society, and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce forthwith legislation for its abolition or for its suspension for an experimental period.
§ Mr. Speaker
There will be an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to ask that after we have dealt with the three Motions on the Order Paper. Then the Adjournment will be moved and the right hon. Gentleman will be in order.