HC Deb 29 January 1957 vol 563 cc867-87

The duties and powers of the Secretary of State for the Home Department as to the periodic reconsideration and review of sentences upon persons convicted of murder shall be exercised in like manner in relation to all sentences passed upon a person originally charged with murder or with capital murder who has on conviction been sentenced to any term of imprisonment.—[Mr. Anthony Greenwood.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

We have brought forward this proposed Clause because it raises a point upon which we would like to have assurances from the Government. In this Bill we are making certain changes in respect of the law of murder. For example, we are designating certain cases of homicide as manslaughter instead of murder, as they would have been before, and we are also accepting the doctrine of diminished responsibility. It therefore seemed probable to us on this side of the Committee that in the future we shall be seeing a term of years awarded in cases in which, up to the present, the death sentence has been the appropriate one, possibly followed by a reprieve and the substitution of life imprisonment.

It seemed to us reasonable to suggest that in such cases the sentence should be reviewed on the same principles as are applied in the case of life sentences at present. We all know that life sentences are not, in fact, life sentences but a great deal shorter, and that there has been a tendency over the years for the average term of imprisonment to get shorter and shorter. In paragraph 644 of the Report of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment we are told the circumstances under which the Secretary of State reviews the sentences on imprisoned murderers at least every four years, and the Home Office stated, before the Royal Commission, that the basic principle was as follows: The punishment must be sufficient to deter others and to be accepted by public opinion as an adequate vindication of the law; it ought not to suggest that the crime of murder is regarded lightly by the State or can be put on the same level with other crimes. It is therefore desirable to grade the terms as far as possible according to the degree of culpability in each case. Account must also be taken of the length of sentences imposed by the Courts for other offences. Subject to that basic principle, the Home Office tell us that weight is given to three considerations: first, the character and behaviour of the prisoner during his period of imprisonment; secondly, the likelihood of his committing other crimes if he is released and, thirdly, the effect of a long term of imprisonment upon the prisoner's health.

In my view, there are two considerations which are of special importance in this connection. In the first case the White Paper on Capital Punishment, which was issued by the Labour Government, in 1948, showed that released murderers seldom commit further crimes of violence. The second consideration is the effect of a long term of imprisonment upon the prisoner himself, and whether it is likely to produce further moral degeneration in him.

Upon that second point there are conflicting views, as I well appreciate and I know that changes in prison administration have probably tended over the last twenty-five years, in spite of overcrowding of prisons, to make the effects of a long term of imprisonment perhaps less serious than they were in the past. However, I want to bring to the attention of the Committee the evidence which Sir Alexander Paterson gave to the Select Committee in 1930. He said: Whatever means of education, stimulation and recreation may be employed, however you may seek to ring the changes on handicrafts and literature, skittles or chess or ping-pong, despite the invaluable labours of most devoted voluntary workers, it requires a superman to survive 20 years of imprisonment with character and soul intact … I gravely doubt whether an average man can serve more than ten continuous year, in prison without deterioration. I think it is clear that the Home Secretary has reviewed these long periods of imprisonment with a good deal of understanding and sympathy. Now that the life sentence will not be imposed in many cases but instead a long period of imprisonment for a stated period will be imposed, it would be a great pity, I think, if the Home Secretary did not continue to apply to these new cases the same principle as he has applied in the case of murderers in the past. It is because we should like to have assurances from the Government on the way they will review these sentences that we have tabled this new Clause.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)

I am grateful for the opportunity which this new Clause gives to reassure the Committee that the same principles, as the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) put it, will apply to the review of the new sentences which are likely to be imposed in cases where, formerly, a sentence of death was likely to have been imposed. I say "the same principles" because, for reasons which I think will become apparent, the terms of the new Clause are inappropriate, in that the reconsideration although it will be exercised on the same principle, cannot be exercised in like manner in relation to sentences of terms of years for manslaughter for example.

It might be convenient for the Committee if I dealt with this matter in two parts, first, dealing with the power of release, the power to remit part of a sentence, and then dealing with the administrative arrangements by which my right hon. Friend or any other holder of his office implement their powers of release.

In the first place, the power of release can either depend on the Prerogative of mercy or else can be a statutory power. The Prerogative of mercy exists not only to commute a death sentence to one of imprisonment for life, but it can also operate to release any prisoner, to remit the sentence of any prisoner, prematurely. The Prerogative power is exercised only in exceptional circumstances because in its nature it means that, where there is a sentence by the court, it is an interference with the court's jurisdiction over sentence; and, of course, my right hon. Friend does not exist as a court of appeal from the sentences imposed by courts of justice.

It is exercised in cases where compassionate considerations are overwhelming, for example, if a prisoner is fatally ill and it is obviously desirable that he should be released unconditionally. In those cases the Prerogative power is used, because the release is not on licence but is an absolute remission of the remainder of the sentence.

The second group of powers which the Secretary of State exercises in this respect is a group of statutory powers which fall into two parts—the release on licence and the absolute remission of the remainder of the sentence. The release on licence applies primarily to life sentences, and it applies to life sentences whether they are fixed by the court or result from the respiting of the death penalty. The powers exist by virtue of a provision of the Prison Act, 1952, and also, in the case of young persons, by virtue of a provision of the Children and Young Persons Act.

4.15 p.m.

In the case of sentences of the court other than life sentences, it is only in the minority of cases that the release is on licence. These are, again, statutory provisions, and they apply in the case of a young person who is released on licence and not unconditionally released. There are also provisions for corrective training and preventive detention, where the release is on licence.

In the generality of cases, however, the release is not on licence. Where a term of years has been fixed by the court there is a discharge of the prisoner, ordinarily speaking, when two-thirds of the sentence has expired and when the discharge has been earned by good behaviour. In administrative practice this works the other way round and the concession is forfeited by bad behaviour, but as the Statute stands it has to be earned by good behaviour, and rules have been made for that purpose.

So much for my right hon. Friend's powers. The administrative arrangements for review exist for the purposes to which the hon. Member for Rossendale referred; they enable the sentence to be considered in the light of the circumstances of the case, the progress which the prisoner has made and also the current practice of the court in imposing fixed sentences for other offences, particularly offences of violence, where the tendency recently, I think, has been for the court to impose less drastic sentences than formerly. The problem to be determined is whether the time is now approaching when the prisoner can properly be released on licence. It is also a means of bringing to light any special circumstances or compassionate considerations which might warrant the exceptional course of recommending some remission of the sentence oy the exercise of the Prerogative.

In the case of a life sentence, whether it is a commuted death sentence or has been imposed by the court, the practice is to review at the end of the first year's imprisonment and again at the end of the fourth, eighth and twelfth year, and so on. That is the periodic review, but, in addition, there is a special review when any petition is presented by a prisoner or a representation made by a person on a prisoner's behalf. That is in the case of a life sentence.

The practice is slightly different in the case of a sentence of a term of years imposed by the court. In this case there is still a review whenever a petition is presented or representation made, because it is thought right to examine the cases of prisoners serving long sentences on representation, quite apart from the periodic review; but a periodic review is also thought necessary in those cases, quite apart from review on petitions and representations, and in this instance the review is at the end of the fourth and eighth years' imprisonment but not at the end of the first year. The Committee will see that it applies only in the case of long, fixed sentences where the sentence is more than six years; otherwise the prisoners will have been released at the time when the review would take place.

The purpose of the new Clause is to ensure that the existing practice, which I have tried to outline to the Committee, shall continue. I hope that I have said sufficient to reassure the Committee about the way it will be operated where a sentence is for a term of years for manslaughter. The actual terms of the new Clause are inappropriate, because where there is a sentence for a fixed term there is no question of release on licence, whereas, to use the words of the new Clause, a review of sentences upon persons convicted of murder involves a release on licence. I hope that I have made the point clear. If it is a life sentence, there is a release on licence under statutory powers, but if it is for a term of years, the release is not on licence, but normally at the end of two-thirds of the term of years.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I thank the hon. and learned Member for that information. He will bear in mind that the new Clause was drafted to deal with a speech which he made when he did not occupy the prominent position which he now occupies and did not have access to all the information to which he now has access.

Mr. Simon

I thought that that might be in the hon. Member's mind and I have done my best to replenish my stores of information since coming to my present office.

If I may recapitulate for the benefit of the Committee so that I can make plain how this review will take place, where a person is convicted of capital murder the case will be reviewed, to see whether there are grounds for recommending the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. If there are, the sentence will be commuted to one of life imprisonment and reviewed in accordance with the current practice, and the power to release on licence will apply. The position of the under-18s will remain unchanged.

Where a person is convicted of non-capital murder and is over 18, he will be sentenced to life imprisonment and again, the case will be reviewed under the existing arrangements and the power to release on licence will apply. Where a person is charged with either capital murder or murder and is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to life imprisonment, the sentence will be reviewed under existing arrangements and the power to license will apply.

It is only in the fourth case that the new Clause is not appropriate. That is where a person is charged with capital murder or murder and is convicted of either manslaughter or a lesser crime, such as wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm. In that case the sentence will be reviewed every four years, as are existing sentences, but there will be no power to release on licence and the sentence can be shortened only either by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative in exceptional or compassionate cases, or under the statutory power to remit one-third of the sentence for good behaviour, when the release is not on licence. I am empowered by my right hon. Friend to assure the Committee that he intends to continue the existing practice and the existing principles of reviews.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

That seems to be one of the most unsatisfactory replies that I have ever heard. The new Clause is directed, and solely directed, to what the Joint Under-Secretary called the fourth case. I certainly did not imagine, and I am sure that nobody else imagined, that there would be any change in the procedure in the case of a life sentence. What the Bill provides is that in cases where, previously, there would be life sentences, that is, the case of the diminished responsibility, there shall now be sentences for terms of years. The whole and only point of the new Clause, which would make no other change in the practice, is that men who would previously have been sentenced to imprisonment for life on a commuted death sentence shall not be in a worse position as a result of the Bill—and they are as the Bill stands.

I will quote a case in which precisely this trouble occurred. A boy doing his National Service, because somebody had been rude to him—I think in a tea queue —proceeded to get a rifle, shoot a fellow with it and then shoot at two other people, wounding one. Very fortunately, the people who were shot recovered. The boy was given fifteen years' sentence for attempted murder. Three things might have happened, First, in prison he might have turned out to be insane, in which case he would have gone to a lunatic asylum. Secondly, he might have turned out to be an irredeemable psychiatric personality, a psychopath, in which case, for his own safety and for that of the community, he ought not to have been allowed to be at large. Thirdly, he might have been just temporarily psychologically ill, in which case he ought to have been released as soon as it was safe.

In that case I asked the Court of Appeal on his behalf, to turn the fifteen years' sentence into a life sentence, and the Court did so. I will not mention the boy's name, but the hon. and learned Member will find that his Department is familiar with it, because I had conversations about it at the time with his predecessor. It is precisely that sort of case which we had in mind to be covered by the new Clause.

If his victims had been killed and the Bill had been in operation, clearly it would have been a case of diminished responsibility. That is precisely the sort of case in which one wants to take power to keep him out of harm's way, to keep him from endangering himself and the community, but, on the other hand, precisely because of his diminished responsibility one does not want particularly to punish him. The whole basis of his sentence is that it is not really his fault, but he must be taken away to stop him endangering people. There is a long sentence and it is a sentence which ought to be under review all the time, so that he may be released on licence when it has been decided that the factor which diminished his responsibility has been cured and it is safe to let him out. That is the most important case of the lot for keeping under review and for considering release on licence.

It was said that the Home Office should not be a court of appeal from the judge but in that sort of case that is precisely what the Home Office should be. The court has said that a murder has been committed, but the man, without being insane, is of diminished responsibility and not really to blame for what he did. We have to put him away for the safety of the community and not really to punish him, because nobody wants to punish people who are not responsible for what they do.

He is handed over to the Home Office in those circumstances to see whether, if and when he is cured, he is responsible enough to be let out. Of course, quite a proportion of these people will go to lunatic asylums and will never be let out. It is those whose mentality deteriorates. However, some will be cured. Some will get better. Those will be let out and are the people whom the new Clause would cover. It makes no difference to anybody else.

In the light of that explanation, I hope that the Home Office will reconsider this matter, even if it should have the horrifying result that there might be more than a formal Report stage. The Home Secretary will recognise that we have in no way obstructed here. He need not be frightened of more than a formal Report stage. This is a useful and valuable power and a necessary power, because tile power to license in the case of the man who is sentenced to a term of years, precisely because he is of diminished responsibility, is not a power which exists at the moment.

It is a power which is required in that sort of case more pre-eminently than in any other sort of case. We do not want constantly to be going to the Court of Appeal, asking it to convert a term of years into a life sentence, as I actually had to do on that occasion. I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to consider very carefully whether this valuable and useful addition to the right hon. Gentleman's powers as Home Secretary ought not to be included in the Bill, seeing what we are doing in the case of diminished responsibility.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in part of his argument, used a more euphemistic form of expression than is habitual to him in the course of these discussions. He said that if a man charged with murder succeeded in advancing a defence of diminished responsibility he was then handed over to the Home Office in order to be kept out of harm's way and from harming himself or harming the community. That may be the intention of what is done with him, but it sounds to me an unusually euphemistic way in which to refer to a very long term of imprisonment. Actually, the sentence in the Bill is imprisonment for life is it not?

Mr. Paget


Mr. Silverman

Clause 2 deals with -diminished responsibility. It says: Where a person kills or is a party to the killing of another, he shall not be convicted of murder if he was suffering from such abnormality of mind (whether arising from a condition of arrested or retarded development of mind or any inherent causes or induced by disease or injury) as substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts and omissions in doing or being a party to the killing.

Mr. Paget

He is sentenced for manslaughter.

Mr. Silverman

The Clause says: A person who but for this section, would be liable … to be convicted of murder shall be liable instead to be convicted of manslaughter. When he is convicted of manslaughter, he is then not handed over to the Home Office but sentenced to imprisonment and he may be sentenced to imprisonment for life, because that is a possible sentence on conviction for manslaughter. I only make this point because it is quite clear that in this class of case and in some other classes of case we are not really dealing with criminal types at all, but with diseased or defective mentalities of one sort or another where treatment is what is required rather than penalties.

Mr. Paget

I must have made myself very unclear. That is what I was seeking to show. I was saying that in these sort of cases the sentence should be treated as though the man were handed over to the right hon. Gentleman for the protection of society and the curing of the man. It ought not to he treated primarily as punishment. He is only sentenced because he is not responsible for what he did.

Mr. Silverman

I thought that what my hon. and learned Friend was really saying was that in this matter of the review of sentence we had to bear in mind that the purpose of detention was reformative and remedial, and not a penalty. I thought that was what he had in mind. I thought that it was an unnecessarily euphemistic way of referring to it, because the Bill does not contain any provision for any form of remedial treatment at all. All that it legislates for is the ordinary penal consequence which would follow upon the conviction in any circumstances.

The Under-Secretary obviously has gone to a great deal of trouble to ascertain what the actual practice is and I suppose that we have benefited by his researches. We have also his statement that he has also benefited by his researches and seen fit to modify some unofficial views which he expressed in the course of the Bill last year. All the same, I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that, in spite of the one case in which there might be technical difficulties, the Amendment ought to be accepted, even if, at a later stage, it has to be redrafted to deal with any particular difficulty in a particular class of case.

If it is the practice of the Home Office to act in this way, then it seems to me that this is an admirable opportunity for defining what is the statutory duty, because I have not satisfied myself that the present practice is such as to relieve us of very reasonable anxiety about the way in which these cases are handled.

I had some correspondence with the ex-Home Secretary about a man who wrote to me from Dartmoor. This was a man who had been convicted in the Channel Islands of the murder of his 12year-old daughter. I know nothing of the circumstances, and it is perhaps unnecessary for this purpose to know anything of the circumstances, because the Home Secretary of the day thought that it was a fit case for reprieve. The man was, in fact reprieved and a sentence of life imprisonment was substituted for the capital sentence. Because, apparently there was no place on the Channel Islands fit for his detention he was removed to Dartmoor. At Dartmoor, by all accounts, he was, throughout the whole period, a model prisoner, never in difficulty and never any source of trouble to anyone.

One can only imagine that in all the circumstances it must have been a particularly pathetic case, not the case of a normally violent man. After a long correspondence with the then Home Secretary, the decision was made that the man was to he released. If that decision is followed, he will 'be released this coming June or July. By that time he will have been in Dartmoor for twenty years. At the time he wrote to me he had been in Dartmoor for nineteen years, and when I wrote to the then Home Secretary I received the reply that his case had been reviewed from time to time but that, for reasons unstated, it had not been thought tit to release him.

In further correspondence I was told that the case was then under further review, and at the end of the correspondence I was told that he would be released next July—I believe it was—and that in view of his long incarceration he had been given longer notice of his intended release so as to accustom his mind to the new circumstances. Twenty years is a long time. I asked the then Home Secretary whether he would tell me what were the reasons which necessitated detaining this man for so long a period in such a prison.

Dartmoor is not the best of our prisons. Conditions there are not the easiest. I do not know anyone with any knowledge of the circumstances who can feel very proud of it as a British institution or an example of the humanity with which we treat people who have incurred such a punishment. Dartmoor is a very old prison. It has virtually no amenities. I believe that it was built during the Napoleonic wars, to house French prisoners of war. It has never been modernised in any way. It is the place to which we send the most violent and hardened of people. In view of the most eloquent speeches made by the retentionists during previous debates, saying how wrong it was to detain people for very long periods in circumstances of this kind, and how much more merciful it would be to execute them one wonders whether the Home Secretary of the day intended the reprieve to be a mercy or an added penalty.

At any rate, I asked the Home Secretary whether he would tell me what the reasons were, and he said that it was not the practice to state what the reasons were. That did not seem a very convincing answer. The fact that a thing is not the practice does not necessarily amount to convincing proof that it ought not to be the practice, or that it ought not to be done in exceptional circumstances. I pressed him for the reasons, but I do not know now what they were, because the then Home Secretary refused to throw any light upon the subject.

The Under-Secretary has been considering the practice, and he devoted part of his speech to dealing with what he said were the principles upon which reviews took place, but he did not tell us what those principles were. If they are principles which make it possible to detain a reprieved murderer of unexceptional behaviour as a prisoner in a place like Dartmoor for twenty years, it seems that those principles ought to be publicly stated, publicly discussed and publicly justified, especially if we are now going to-say that we shall apply those principles to people to whom, under the former law, they would not have been applicable.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

I am very much in agreement with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that principles ought to be stated. However, as I understand, the proposed new Clause deals not with principles but with the duties and powers of the Secretary of State. I am rather worried about the possible effect of the Clause. Its object, I believe, is to remedy the present state of affairs in which, in the case of a fixed term of imprisonment as a penalty for manslaughter, a periodic review does not take place as it does when a life sentence is imposed.

I gather that the duties and powers of the Secretary of State in this matter are not laid down in the statutes; they are merely practices which have come into being over the years. At any rate, we have not been referred to any Statute which shows that this or that ought to be done. In that case, what is there to stop the present practice being altered in any way? Why cannot the Minister recognise that a case has been made out for periodic reviews to take place in cases where sentences of fixed terms of imprisonment have been imposed for manslaughter? I should have thought that there would be no need for a Clause of this kind if a promise were given that this matter would be considered and that in proper cases action would be taken in the manner desired.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Simon

I should like, first, to reply to the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). The statutory powers in this case are those about which I told the Committee earlier. The administrative practice, which is something different, is as I also stated. We feel that it would be undesirable to stereotype that administrative practice by giving it statutory form. The proper method of control lies in the responsibility of the Secretary of State to the House, which can control his administrative practice in the ways that are open to it. It is because one of the effects of the Amendment would be to stereotype administrative practice that we feel that it is undesirable.

Mr. Paget


Mr. Simon

The hon. and learned Member asks why. It is because the Amendment says: The duties and powers of the Secretary of State for the Home Department as to the periodic reconsideration and review"— of life sentences, in effect— shall be exercised in like manner in relation to all sentences passed upon a person originally charged with murder or with capital murder.

Mr. Paget

How is that stereotyped? The review of life sentences and the action taken upon them are matters entirely within the Home Secretary's discretion. Some people serving life sentences are allowed out on licence within as short a period as six months. I remember that a prisoner concerned in one case in which I took part was let out after four years. The circumstances vary over the whole range of the crime. Why do we not say that a completely unstereotyped arrangement in which discretion is unfettered shall apply to cases where a fixed term of imprisonment has been imposed as well as to cases where a sentence of life imprisonment has been imposed? How are we making it stereotyped? I should say that we are doing exactly the opposite.

Mr. Simon

I was going to deal with that point. I have a note of it and I shall come back to it.

A clear distinction ought to be made between the statutory powers laid down in statutes already existing—one of which was sponsored by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—and the administrative practice, which should be infinitely variable; which should vary from time to time in different circumstances, and the control over which is exercised from time to time by the House.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

The first four words of the proposed new Clause are, "The duties and powers". The hon. and learned Gentleman merely referred to the powers. Are there any statutory duties—that is, duties imposed by Parliament—upon the Home Secretary with regard to the review of these cases?

Mr. Simon

So far as I know there is no statutory duty to review, but it arises necessarily out of the powers given to the Home Secretary to release a person in certain circumstances. It is quite true that in the case of long sentences of fixed terms of imprisonment there is no duty to review; it is purely an administrative practice. As I said, my right hon. Friend intends to continue to review long fixed terms in the same way as he reviews life sentences. In that case the duty arises out of the power given to the Home Secretary to licence. It seems to me to be necessarily implicit in that power.

Mr. Ede

It is really a moral duty to exercise the power given to him. It is some years now since I had to refer to this matter, but my recollection is that there is no statutory duty imposed on him, and that it is very much a matter for his discretion. I was wondering whether the Clause would be more acceptable if the words "duties and" were omitted.

Mr. Simon

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct when he says that there is no statutory duty. When he says that it is a moral duty, I suppose that that is right, in the sense of it being a political duty, and in the sense that if he fails in his moral duty this House would see to it that he was answerable.

Mr. Ede

This House might say, "You have been given this discretion; you have failed to use it in a case where it should have been used." I do not put it higher than that.

Mr. Simon

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, who has put the matter with complete accuracy.

I come now to the main point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). They dealt with the particular case of the diseased or defective mentality, and said that is a case for remedial treatment rather than punishment. Even within the sphere of diminished responsibility, the very nature of the term recognises that there is some criminal responsibility. As the Committee knows, I always urged this mitigation of the course of the law and as a back bencher I was greatly pleased when it was included in this Bill. But, although there is not full criminal responsibility, it is implicit that there is sufficient responsibility for the accused man to be answerable in a penal sense.

We should be cautious about how far remedial treatment is likely to be successful in this case. Hon. Members will recall the evidence given to the Royal Commission, and approved by it, suggesting that in a large majority of cases of psychopaths there is unlikely to be a prospect of a cure. Hon. Gentlemen will remember that in their last two Reports, the Prison Commissioners referred to the new prison being built at Grendon Underwood especially for the treatment of psychopaths. Although that will deal with only a small number of cases, one hopes that it will offer some prospect of remedial treatment for cases to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

It seems to me that this Amendment goes very much further than the cases which the hon. Gentlemen have in mind. It is by no means confined to cases of diminished responsibility; it would refer to all cases, for example, in Part I of the Bill. It would cover cases of provocation, of suicide pacts and what I might call the ordinary traditional type of manslaughter, where there is a failure to prove specific intent to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm. It would also include cases of wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm. It is unacceptable in this type of case because once the court thought fit not to pass a sentence of life imprisonment it would give the power to review, to release on licence, to my right hon. Friend. If, in its discretion, the court imposes a sentence of a fixed term of years, it is unacceptable to say that the Executive shall act as a court of appeal—because that is what it amounts to—from the sentence of the court. In my submission, that is constitutionally quite unacceptable.

Mr. Paget

As I understand, the hon. and learned Gentleman now agrees that there are cases—and particularly I think that this will apply to diminished responsibility cases—in which a man is put into a worse position because of this Bill, if, apart from this Bill, he would be sentenced to death. In cases of diminished responsibility there would be commutation and he would then be eligible for licence as soon as the Home Secretary thought it safe to let him out. Now, instead of being sentenced to life imprisonment, he may be sentenced to a term of years by a judge who does not approve of any of the new-fangled nonsense about treating criminals as though they were ill. He may be sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment for the express purpose of cutting out the discretion of the Home Secretary. Surely that is not right.

All we are saying is that where a man is charged with murder and, but for this Bill—this is what the new Clause says—he would have been convicted of murder and a death sentence commuted to a life sentence; where, but for this Bill, the Home Secretary would have had the power and, not the technical duty, but the political and moral duty to review his sentence, the right hon. Gentleman shall still have that technical and moral duty, in spite of this Bill. Surely that is just and right. Why is the Home Secretary embarrassed by retaining a power which only this Bill takes away from him?

But for this Bill, all the men who are affected by this Clause would be under a life sentence because of diminished responsibility, provocation and suicide pacts. There may now be a sentence of years, and, if so, we say that, none the less, that should be subject to review and they should be eligible for licensing as was the case before the passing of this Bill) otherwise, they will be in a worse position. What is the objection to that? We have not heard it.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I do not think this new Clause is necessary. My hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary has referred to all the cases. In fact, my powers remain as before, and the issue at stake is the question where there is a fixed term, that is, not life imprisonment. I should like carefully to indicate the powers which, in my opinion, will remain for the Home Secretary from now on, which I do not think will be unsatisfactory to the Committee and which I do not think I can alter.

The powers will be these. Where a person is charged with capital murder, or murder, but convicted of manslaughter or a lesser crime and sentenced to a lesser term than life imprisonment, such sentences will be reviewed, as in the existing circumstances, every four years. There will, in fact—and this is the answer to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget)—be no power to release on licence. The reason for that has been put clearly by my hon. and learned Friend. It is because the Home Secretary cannot constitute himself a court of appeal as against the courts. My hon. and learned Friend brought out that issue quite clearly. But a recommendation for a remission of part of the sentence by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative may be justified where there are exceptional circumstances.

I should prefer to leave these powers of the Home Secretary in the case brought to a head, with his usual acuity, by the hon. and learned Member, on the lines that I have just described, rather than accept the Clause, which the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)— himself a former Home Secretary—thinks goes too far. I have indicated that there is a power, where circumstances justify it, for the use of the Royal Prerogative. I think that that is better than to try to alter the duties and powers of the Home Secretary, as is recommended by the Clause.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I recall that some years ago there was a Mr. Hatry, who was sentenced to a long term of penal servitude, as the law then was. After he had served a very considerable part of the sentence, but had not reached the point where automatic remission for good behaviour would have released him, some hon. Members of this House, led by an hon. Member who is still with us—but as I have not had the opportunity of consulting him it would be wrong for me to name him—called a meeting of hon. Members. The meeting was held in one of the Committee Rooms. I was present, having been invited. It was long before I was Home Secretary.

We decided jointly to approach the Home Secretary on the ground that in this particular case, in the light of the way in which public opinion had altered about long sentences during the term for which Mr. Hatry had been in prison, we would request that a recommendation for the use of the Royal Prerogative should be made. The approach was made and the Home Secretary of the day shared our view. He made the appropriate recommendations and Mr. Hatry, whose case I am sure is notorious enough for every hon. Member to recall its circumstances, was released.

I agree with everything that was said by the Under-Secretary of State in his last speech, except his last sentence. We are all indebted to him for the clarity with which he has answered successive points. No Home Secretary worth his salt could ever accept that he was not entitled to make a recommendation for the use of the Royal Prerogative in the case of a fixed sentence where, in his opinion, the circumstances warranted it.

I would not limit the use of the Prerogative to long sentences. I fear that people outside think that the Home Secretary exercises this right of recommendation only in cases of capital sentence, but I am sure that the present Home Secretary has already had to make a few recommendations for the remission of quite trivial amounts of terms of imprisonment where circumstances have altered or others have arisen so as to make such a recommendation worth while. He may even have exercised it with regard to fines.

I remember when people were convicted of the offence of opening the door of a motor vehicle on the offside. The cases were brought under the Highway Act of 1835, long before motor vehicles were invented. One day the A.A. solictor who was asked to take one of these cases looked up the Section of the Highway Act, 1835, and found that it referred to vehicles in motion. All the cases that had occurred up to that point had been of stationary vehicles. Nobody had looked up the Act, because everybody realised that to open a door on the offside without taking some care was an anti-social act.

As soon as it was discovered that the law had been badly interpreted all the people who had been convicted began to petition me for the exercise of the Royal Prerogative so that they could get back their £2 or whatever it was that they had paid in fines. I used to send up batches of about a dozen at a time and they all got their money back.

Mr. S. Silverman

And was their good name restored?

Mr. Ede

I am not quite sure that it was. I give that as an example to show how wide a range this right covers. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not feel himself too bound, the next time he replenishes his memory, by the last sentence that he uttered on the last occasion that he addressed us.

Mr. Paget

I would ask the Home Secretary to go a little further. He said that the power to recommend the Royal Prerogative was exercised only in exceptional circumstances. On the long sentences he said that there was an investigation each four years or sooner if circumstances arose, and that those investigations were definitely from the point of view, "Should we let this man out or not?"

In cases of diminished responsibility, which are an extremely important class of case, would the right hon. Gentleman treat the exercise of the Royal Prerogative not as something for exceptional circumstances but, where the medical reports were good and doctors felt that the person was safe to re-enter society, as something normal to recommend? If the right hon. Gentleman would meet me thus far, I would be satisfied. That is what I am anxious about.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I do not want to make too many ex cathedra statements on the Bill, partly because I have not the experience, for example, of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who held the office of Home Secretary for a considerable time.

Fixed-term sentences are governed by the words I used, "exceptional circumstances," but I am ready to say that the circumstances will have to be examined in future in the light of the terms of the Bill, which, naturally, governs the situation. While not wishing to pinpoint a a particular case before I have had a chance of examining its circumstances, I think that hon. Gentlemen can feel satisfied that the circumstances contemplated in the Clause are already met, as enlarged by the statements which I have made. My advisers so advised me when we came to this point.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

As the discussion has gone to and fro I have found myself in some embarrassment. I was greatly reassured by the first contribution of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon), but less reassured by his second statement; then I was reassured again by the two statements from the Home Secretary. I have been a little bit perturbed, because I felt that my hon. Friends were not quite so reassured as I was.

It might be unfair to the Home Secretary to press him to go further than he has done. We might benefit if we had time to reflect upon the statements which have been made from the Government Front Bench. I am anxious that the proposed new Clause should not be negatived. Perhaps the wisest course would be for me to withdraw it so that we might consider it in the light of what has been said, and either make representations to the right hon. Gentleman on the subject or have the matter raised in another place. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.