HC Deb 11 December 1958 vol 597 cc498-500
25. Mr. Brockway

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will reconsider the sentences of four years imprisonment which are being served by four youths for offences during the race disturbances in Notting Hill.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I am not an appellate authority and I have no power to review sentences passed by the courts. I know of no grounds which would justify me in recommending the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of mercy in these cases.

Mr. Brockway

The right hon. Gentleman will not think that I condone the offences. Does he agree that although a severe warning might have been necessary at that time, the individual sentences on the boys were very severe? Has he received a request from the coloured workers' organisation that there should be a remission? Is he aware that in Notting Hill the coloured workers themselves are petitioning for a remission? For the sake of good will, will he review all the sentences, for both whites and blacks?

Mr. Butler

It is very important to understand the position of the Home Secretary in this matter. It is that I cannot review sentences passed by the courts. If I were to recommend the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of mercy—which is not confined to the most distressing capital cases, but which can be employed in cases like this—I should have to have new facts and new conditions put before me. I hope that the House realises that this case went to appeal and that the Court of Criminal Appeal upheld the findings of the lower court. In the circumstances, and in view of that situation, I do not think that there is any case for my intervention.

Mr. Shinwell

Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the sentences were imposed at a time of stress and considerable emotion and that the circumstances were most unusual and exceptional? While not in any way condoning the offences, in those circumstances, will he do something to bring about some review of the sentences?

Mr. Butler

I have considered this, of course, but I have also to consider the circumstances. The House may remember that the Court of Criminal Appeal said that it had weighed carefully and supported every word used by Mr. Justice Salmon when sentencing these youths. and thought that his words were wise, just and necessary. It was certainly an exceptional situation and nobody would wish to see anything that was unjust. However, I see no new circumstance which would justify my intervention