HC Deb 05 November 1959 vol 612 cc1180-5
11. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has considered the official statistics concerning the incidence of crime, to which reference was made by the Lord Chief Justice on 22nd October; and whether, in framing his proposals for penal reform, he will give consideration to the reintroduction of judicial birching, as punishment for crimes of violence.

21. Mr. N. Pannell

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has considered the official statistics concerning the incidence of crime which the Lord Chief Justice put before the annual meeting of the Magistrates' Association in London on Thursday, 22nd October; and whether he will give consideration to the restoration of corporal punishment when framing his proposals for reform of the penal code.

27. Sir T. Moore

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has studied the official statistics regarding the incidence of crime adduced by the Lord Chief Justice at the annual meeting of the Magistrates' Association; and whether, as a result, he will introduce legislation to restore corporal punishment for crimes of violence.

35. Mr. Osborne

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he proposes to introduce legislation to enable corporal punishment to be imposed, in the light of the statistics quoted by the Lord Chief Justice before the Magistrates' Association; and if he will make a statement.

41. Mr. Lagden

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, having regard to the official statistics concerning corporal punishment referred to recently by the Lord Chief Justice of England, whether he will consider the formation of a committee to examine and report on the question of punishment of crimes of violence.

Mr. R. A. Butler

While I have naturally considered the Lord Chief Justice's remarks, I am basing myself on the plans for the positive treatment of young offenders which have been under consideration by my Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Justice Barry, and are recommended in its recently published Report.

Mr. Nabarro

Has my right hon. Friend perceived that, in regard to crimes of violence, there is evidently complete unanimity of view between the present Lord Chief Justice, his predecessor, Lord Goddard, and myself, together with many of my distinguished hon. Friends on these benches, that a proper policy ought to be to "whack the thugs"? May we have an assurance from my right hon. Friend that, when his penal reform Measure is brought to the House, it will not be drafted in such a way as to preclude the addition of an appropriate Clause in the sense that I have indicated?

Mr. Butler

I fully understand the force of the questions I am answering today. I have said that I am basing the Bill on the Report of the Advisory Council to which I referred. That will be so. I will certainly consider what my hon. Friend says, because we are a free country and we are entitled to have our own views on these matters. I think that every aspect of the subject of young offenders should be considered by the House. But the basis from which I start has been made clear from this Box.

Mr. Royle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, on this occasion, the Lord Chief Justice's statement was given in answer to a very casual question after he had made a long and considered speech, and does the right hon. Gentleman feel that the matter ought to be considered in that light in an expression of view on corporal punishment?

Mr. Butler

Yes, it was in answer to questions. Everybody is entitled to his own opinion in this country, and I am ready to take into account the position and opinion of the Lord Chief Justice. I notice, also, that he said that the cat is brutal and makes martyrs of people. That, I think, is a very sensible observation. As regards the aspirations of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster, I hope he will now have extra hopes since he agrees with the Lord Chief Justice and his predecessor.

Sir T. Moore

Is not my right hon. Friend sometimes rather fearful of being so much out of tune with public opinion on this matter, and certainly with the highest legal opinion, as has been pointed out? Is he not still more fearful when he realises that the greater part of his support on this question comes from the opposite benches?—"Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes".

Mr. Nabarro

What does that mean?

Mr. Butler

I hope my hon. Friend will translate that at a later date for the benefit of hon. Members opposite. I am not at all anxious, because this is really entirely a practical matter. No one objects to a parent or teacher, under proper conditions, using the cane on young people. We found from the Report of 1948, however, what very great difficulty there is in administering this punishment through courts. Let us have a discussion about it. I am not unduly prejudiced on the matter. No one wants to check the rise in crime more than I do.

Mr. N. Pannell

With respect, may I remind my right hon. Friend that I think the year was 1938, not 1948? May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the Advisory Council had the advantage of the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice before coming to its conclusions?

Mr. Nabarro

And mine.

Mr. Butler

I think it important that the Legislature should be perfectly free to make up its own mind on these matters. What obiter dicta are made by such distinguished persons as the Lord Chief Justice must be made according to their own tastes and judgment, but it must be for the Legislature to make up its mind on these issues.

Mr. M. Stewart

May I remind the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) that one of the members of the Cadogan Commission which demonstrated the futility of this form of punishment was a former Conservative Member of this House?

Sir T. Moore

That was the cat

Mr. Osborne

Does my right hon. Friend think it fair to take part of the Lord Chief Justice's judgment as supporting his opinion that the cat is brutalising and to ignore his other suggestions? Has my right hon. Friend no confidence in the Lord Chief Justice's general remarks? Also, will he bear in mind that at least the vast majority of his own supporters would like him to take some action in this way?

Mr. Butler

I fully understand the pressure on this matter, but I am sure my hon. Friends realise that we cannot solve crime by a single method such as this. The more we openly discuss the matter on the occasion of a Bill dealing with young offenders the better. I am not at all frightened of discussing the matter, but let us discus it on its merits.

Mr. Paget

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Lord Chief Justice and indeed members of the judiciary have any training at all in penology? Also is he not aware that, as a matter of historical fact, judicial advice on penal reform has almost invariably turned out to be wrong?

Mr. Butler

I particularly do not want to criticise the Lord Chief Justice in the liberty of expression which undoubtedly he should enjoy, but I equally say that the Legislature is entitled to make up its own mind and to take into account what it hears. The ultimate responsibility for making the law must lie with the Legislature.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise, as a result of the discussion we have had in Question and Answer this afternoon, how inadvisable it is for any occupant of the judicial bench, particularly the Lord Chief Justice, to intervene in public on a matter which is in serious political controversy, even though it is not among the public? Has it not always been the tradition of our judiciary that it should keep out of all questions which fall to be decided by the Legislature and which involve political controversy? Is it not most important that that tradition should be preserved?

Mr. Butler

As an hon. Member opposite has indicated, on this particular occasion the Lord Chief Justice was talking to the magistrates, and he had a very respectable precedent, in that his predecessor used to talk to the magistrates with great effect. We must draw a line between comments by the judiciary on matters essentially within the realm of the Executive, of which there have been one or two cases recently which I personally resent, but we must also allow a certain liberty of expression on the borderline which lies between the Legislature and the Executive.

Mr. Lagden

Does not my right hon. Friend realise that the Lord Chief Justice in this instance is very much in tune with public opinion, and far more in tune with public opinion than some legal nonentities to whom we have to listen in this House?

Mr. Butler

Far be it from me to intervene in such a legal struggle as my hon. Friend has introduced.

24. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will state the number of crimes of violence, known to the police, for which corporal punishment could be imposed prior to the passing of the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, committed in the years 1948, 1957, 1958, and to last convenient date in 1959.

Mr. R. A. Butler

As the answer is long and includes a number of figures, I shall, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Johnson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I asked for only four figures, not a large number, and that I should like to have them now, if I may?

Mr. Butler

I think we have to consider the convenience of the House. My hon. Friend will find that this statement is a long one. It analyses the figures, and it shows I am not entirely satisfied with the way the definition of offences of robbery, etc., are defined throughout the country. As it is rather complicated, and as I can tell the House that the figures do not show an improvement—I will say that at this Box—I would rather that my hon. Friend read them and then, perhaps, came back to me again.

Following is the answer:

The only important crime of violence for which corporal punishment could be imposed before the Criminal Justice Act came into force in 1949 was robbery with violence under Section 23 (1) of the Larceny Act, 1916. The figures for which my hon. Friend asks are:

1948 978
1957 921
1958 1,402
1959 (provisional figures for nine months) 1,217

The analysis of these figures has disclosed that the method of distinguishing robbery with violence from other offences of robbery under subsections (2) and (3) of Section 23 of the Larceny Act is not uniform throughout the country. For this reason I propose in future to quote the figures covering all offences of robbery, the great majority of which are in fact offences of robbery with violence. On this basis the figures are respectively 1,101, 1,194, 1,692, and 1,412 and 1957, not 1958, was the first year in which the figure for 1948 was exceeded.