HC Deb 11 April 1961 vol 638 cc165-203

In subsection (1) of section fifty-three of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, as amended by subsection (3) of section nine of the Homicide Act, 1957 (which prohibits the sentence of death on a person under the age of eighteen years), for the words "eighteen years" there shall be substituted the words 'twenty-one years".—[Mr. MacColl.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. MacColl

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

This is the new Clause to which reference was made earlier in our deliberations. It was discussed in what I thought was a very good debate in Committee, helped perhaps by the fact that I did not take part in it. The discussion ended in a Division in which the proposal was defeated by only one vote. When I say that the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) was the Whip in charge of the Government's interests in Committee, the House will realise that no stone was left unturned in securing that the faithful attended on that occasion to support the Government.

The voting on that proposal showed the narrow division of opinion that there was on this matter in Committee. I emphasise that it was a free vote, as is our vote on this new Clause. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), in speaking on the new Clause concerning corporal punishment, I speak purely as an individual. It is open to any member of the Opposition to vote as he wishes on this matter. It is largely a matter of conscience. We have had many debates in the House on capital punishment, either in the form of Motions or in the form of Bills. This is not a debate on the general issue for or against capital punishment. It is a debate on the age at which the death penalty should be enforced.

There are a number of points on which hon. Members can be agreed. First, we can agree that there must be an age limit. We do not wish to go back to the days when judges invented legal fictions and juries arrived at adverse verdicts in order to avoid the exaction of the death penalty on young children. It is a horrible blemish on the history of our country that there have been many cases in the past of young children being hanged for trivial offences. I am sure that no one would wish to go back to those days. There must be an age limit below which no one should be hanged.

Secondly, I think that everyone agrees that there is a stage in the life of a human being at which he must be said to be immature and another stage at which he must be said to be mature. Those are arbitrary distinctions. No chronological distinction can be an adequate definition or description of a degree of immaturity. It varies with the person. Nevertheless, the law cannot deal in generalities of that sort. Probably we all agree that the law must provide a specified age. Therefore, the issue before us is whether the age limit should be 18 or 21.

The Select Committee of the House which considered the question of capital punishment in 1930 reported in favour of raising the age limit to 21. That is a long time ago in our parliamentary history—more than thirty years. There have been many others, but I do not want to waste time with a long historical departure. I want to come to the immediate problem. Since then there has been the Gowers Report, the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment of 1949 to 1953. It will be within the recollection of the House that that Royal Commission was not allowed, under its terms of reference, to consider t2he general issue for or against the death penalty, but it was allowed to consider it in respect of certain groups and 2certain types, such as women or young people.

It being Ten o'clock further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.

Proceedings on Government business exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee) further considered.

Mr. MacColl

The Royal Commission did consider the question of the age limit, and in its Report gave a very good, fair and balanced summary of the arguments for and against raising it. In the event, a narrow majority of the Commission were in favour of raising the age to 21. I think that it was one more than those who were for keeping it. I would not wish to hide from the House the fact that this was not a unanimous recommendation; nevertheless, it was a majority recommendation, and in the light of the recommendation of the Select Committee, earlier, it is impressive weight of informed opinion in favour of doing it.

There are arguments for saying that somebody at the age of 18 is nowadays to be regarded as grown up. At that age, people are usually bigger, heavier, and perhaps better educated than they used to be. They are considered, or were considered, as being old enough to take part in compulsory military service and, therefore, ought to be held responsible. On the other hand, there are many ways in which a minor between 18 and 21 is not considered a responsible person, and I should like to quote to the House some remarks of Mr. Gerald Gardiner on this particular question. To quote from paragraph 193, Mr. Gardiner is saying: … as lawyers we feel in some difficulty that a person who in law is so immature and irre- sponsible that he cannot vote, cannot own any legal estate in land, cannot give a bill of exchange, cannot surrender the term of a lease, cannot settle an action without leave of the court, cannot give a valid receipt, cannot make a will unless he is a soldier in time of war, and cannot be made bankrupt, all because he is so immature and irresponsible, should nevertheless be subject to the extreme penalty. I think that this is a twofold question: first, whether, at the time at which the murder takes place, the young murderer is of a sufficient degree of maturity to be able to be held fully responsible for what he does, and, secondly, whether, if a murder is committed at that age, there is any likelihood of his being so changed by the time he comes to later life that he becomes a very different sort of person.

The case was quoted in Standing Committee of the two young Chicago boys who committed an extraordinarily brutal sexual murder—young lads named Leopold and Loeb. In later life one of them, when released from prison, was of a totally changed character, a man with a deep sense of religious mission who devoted himself to good works for the rest of his life.

That was a typical case, and I remember, as I was studying in Chicago shortly afterwards, the impact which it made at the time. There was world horror at this particularly revolting and horrible type of murder, and yet, looked at in the perspective of history when we see what happened, we realise that by the time this man came to the end of his life he was a very different type of person. That is one of the important sides of this question.

The other important side is whether a person under the age of 21 is of sufficient maturity to be responsible. There again, how important are my views? I am not a doctor, or psychiatrist, or an authority on these matters. I can only say that on the general balance of expert medical and psychological opinion, there was a good weight of evidence which was sufficient to impress a majority of the Royal Commission that boys in the age group between 18 and 21 were not sufficiently mature and were not sufficiently in control of their actions to be held ultimately responsible to death for the murder that they had committed.

That is not to say that many of them are not beastly or vicious characters—there is no doubt about that. We accept already, however, the principle that those aged 17½, however vicious and beastly they may be—and there have been one or two cases in recent memory of murderers below the age of 18; certainly, the kind of murder they committed would not endear them to anyone—are held to be irresponsible as far as the death penalty goes, whereas those between the ages of 18 and 21 are not.

Two important practical arguments have been frequently deployed. The first is the problem of disposal. It has been said—I rather think that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said this in Committee—that if a young murderer is to be reprieved, what is to be done with him? Is he to be condemned to perpetual life incarceration? If not, what is to be done with him as an alternative to hanging?

I would make two comments on that. The first is that it is a fairly shocking confession of failure of society if we say that we must hang such a man because we cannot think how to treat him otherwise or what to do with him. The challenge to society is to find a way in which we can give him an opportunity of redeeming himself. Secondly, the problem is exaggerated because of the numbers involved. People have a view of hundreds of bloody young murderers being permanently locked up in dungeons. That is not at all the position. Many of the most dangerous murderers among young people are not hanged because, in the very nature of their violence and their complete inability to control themselves, they are held under the Homicide Act to be of diminished responsibility, or they have been found to be insane.

Therefore, some of the most difficult cases, the cases most likely permanently to be incurable, are already those who will not be hanged. If we are to hang because we cannot think what to do with the man, should we not start by hanging the insane people rather than the sane, because it is they whom there is the least likelihood of helping?

This is really a small problem. The Times of 12th December last quoted some figures, which were not up to date but which covered the period from the passing of the Homicide Act to October, 1960. Of these cases, which were from England and Wales, there were only four murderers under the age of 21. Two of them were reprieved and, therefore, the problem of disposal remains. Two of them were executed, namely, Chandler and Forsyth. Therefore, in this comparatively long period, only two people are concerned in this problem. What I am suggesting to the House is not that this is in quantity a big problem but that the fact that it is only in quantity a small problem is no real ground for maintaining something which is, I think, inherently wrong and undesirable as is the taking of the life of these young people, however vicious they are.

It may be said, "Well, do they not deserve it? Is it not desirable as a deterrent that they should suffer this?" We have already been talking a great deal about deterrence in other contexts. What I suggest to the House is that there is no evidence at all that the death penalty is a deterrent for the youngsters; there is always the danger of competition in violence arising out of the fact that a boy does not want it to be felt that he is afraid of the death penalty, which gives the whole act, the horrible, sordid disgusting act which he does, a sort of romance about it, because by it he has defied society, and he is prepared to take the rap. It also leads to the most undesirable glorification of young boys by the Press, by public opinion, by all the campaign which is worked up in having petitions and so on, so that it is sometimes felt, as has been said also in other contexts, that really it is the murderer who is a more innocent and worthy person than the victim. The focus of romance on a young murderer, which arises from the feeling that he may have to take the long walk to the gallows, is something which is thoroughly undesirable, a thoroughly bad deterrent.

I would quote something which has been quoted before and was quoted by Mr. Gerald Gardiner, and that is the interesting fact that on the same day on which Forsyth, at 18, was hanged, Terry committed a murder when he shot the bank manager. Mr. Gardiner said at the time that he was mentioning this that no doubt Terry knew about Forsyth having been hanged. He may have been implying or have had the feeling that Terry read the newspapers. He probably knew nothing about it. But there was a quotation in a newspaper, I think in the Daily Herald, after the finishing of Terry's trial, which said in fact that Terry and Forsyth had had a fight at a cafe in the Chiswick High Road, and made a strange comment on this, that two young men, one of whom had been hanged, the other one has not yet been dealt with, both knew the danger—

Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)

On a point of order. Is not this particular case of Terry under appeal at the moment?

Mr. Paget

Further to that point of order. This is legislation. When we are dealing with legislation no question of sub judice arises. We can discuss anything which is sub judice because we can legislate on that.

Mr. Weitzman

Further to that point of order. I understand that the appeal by Terry has been withdrawn and that there is no appeal pending.

Mr. Paget

It does not matter.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Certainly it would be a mistake that anything said in this debate should have an effect on any appeal which may be pending. It is outwith my own knowledge whether such an appeal is pending or not, but if it is, I am sure that the hon. Member who is addressing the House will take account of that fact and not proceed along the lines he is now pursuing.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. MacColl

All I can say is that if I am saying something which is in any sense improper, the newspapers I am quoting from ought to be prosecuted. I am going to make a quotation, not from the trial but from a newspaper account of the background of these two men. I have mentioned that so far from the death penalty having been a deterrent to Terry, he did know Forsyth, and must have known that Forsyth was hanged on the very day he took a gun to rob a bank.

The second quotation I wish to make is from the News of the World of last Sunday. I do not know whether or not this is true, but it is alleged by the unhappy girl in the case, writing in the News of the World, that Terry sent her a letter while the trial was taking place. I will not read the whole letter, but only one paragraph: It seems pretty obvious what the verdict will be. I am going to be topped. But don't worry, darling, I am not afraid to die. That is not a politician wrapping up a case and saying, "Well, of course, murderers have these romantic ideas …" and so on and so forth. It is something which appeared in a Sunday paper and, for all I know, is absolutely authentic. In that case, I have shown clearly that the fact that he was going to die was something in which he took pride.

After all, why should it be surprising that that attitude is taken by young people? We admire young men or girls who risk their lives in the Armed Forces, or who go abroad to take part in some kind of work in backward countries where they will risk death from disease, and so on. We say that is a fine thing to do and we admire them. Is not it perfectly natural that in this dreadful reversed world of crime there should be admiration for a person who goes unflinchingly to his death? It is the opinion among these immature young lads that it is a brave thing expected of a gangster and a thug, to run a risk. If, in the end, he loses, if he is to be "topped" he should go to his death like a man. That is the kind of dreadful reversed heroics which we shall perpetuate by extending the death penalty to these young and immature people between the ages of 18 and 21.

The other point is the idea that if a boy of 19 is not hanged, but one of 22 is, they will ensure that the boy of 19 carries the gun; and, therefore, we shall increase the risk of older boys persuading younger ones to act as the gun carrier. To some extent it is a curious irony that that is precisely what happened in the case of Bentley and Craig. Bentley was hanged, but Craig could not be hanged because he was under 18. The shock to a political conscience caused by that case was one of the reasons for the abolition of hanging. In the Terry case there was a boy of 16 involved—Tucker—but he did not carry the gun. The boy who carried the gun was the one of hanging age, and so I think that there is come convincing evidence that that would not happen.

It may be said—it was said in the minority view of the Royal Commission —that the best thing to do is to leave this. Paragraph 207 states: In our view, subject to what is said in the next sentence, the right course is to consider each case individually on its own merits and not to exclude the operation of the death penalty in all cases by a rigid and arbitrary rule related to a particular age. I have only two comments to make on this. The first is that that is an argument for lowering the age to 15 or 16 and saying that in all cases above that where people are likely to commit murders in any numbers we leave it entirely to the discretion of the Prerogative. But—I say this with a certain amount of hesitation; I do not want to appear to be offensive, and I have not had the experience which the right hon. Gentleman has had of the great office which he discharges—that as long as we have the death penalty—this is my own view—I do not believe we can "wrap up" the grave responsibility which falls on the Secretary of State.

As to the view that the best way for this discretion to be exercised is that it should be done by one person who is accountable to public opinion, I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman exercises his discretion with the utmost humanity and wisdom. All I can say—I link this again with Forsyth—is that the shock to public opinion when Forsyth was hanged and Rogers was not hanged was enough to destroy the confidence in the workings of the discretion in this way. I think that was an illustration of the difficulty—

Mr. R. A. Butler

I thought that we were confining the debate to persons under the age of 21. I did not think that the rest was in order.

Mr. MacColl

I may be at odds with the right hon. Gentleman. I am quoting from the Observer, which says that John Rogers was aged 20 and that Francis Forsyth was aged 18. Therefore, they were both under 21. What I am saying is that the idea of leaving this terrible responsibility to the Secretary of State of picking which youngster shall be hanged and which shall not, which is a horrible responsibility to place on any man, does not work in a way to create public confidence. I do not believe that we can rely on it as an adequate safeguard. I think it is unjust to the Secretary of State that we should do so. Consequently, I think that Parliament should take the responsibility—and not leave it to the Secretary of State to do the dirty work—by saying that in no case where the person is under 21 will we exact the death penalty and that the case of a person over 21 is a different question altogether.

Therefore, I feel that we ought to take this opportunity, not of tackling the whole problem of the death penalty, vexed and complicated as it is within the problems of morality and conscience which it raises, but that in this small field, which deals with perhaps two or three persons or fewer a year, we should firmly accept responsibility before public opinion for saying that we wish to make it a firm rule that the age should be raised to 21 and do not wish to leave the discretion to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Paget

It seems to me that this is a moderate demand and one which should be accepted at this stage. My hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) has covered the ground very fully, but I want to emphasise two of the points that he made.

The first point is that hanging, the death penalty, the fame which goes with the death penalty, is attractive to some people. It is attractive to the type of rather unbalanced person who can commit murder. It should be realised that the average person could no more commit murder than act as hangman. We are dealing with a small minority, and it is particularly to the young that this sort of fame is attractive.

Of course, this sort of attraction has been known as long as we have known history. On the day that Alexander the Great was born, Herostratus burnt down the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of Seven Wonders of the World, in order that his name might be remembered for ever. I think that it was Voltaire who observed that his name was indeed remembered, while we do not know the name of the man who built that great edifice.

The fame of murderers! If we took a census throughout this country, far more people would know the name of Dr. Crippen than would probably know the name of Mr. Asquith, who was Prime Minister at the time. That is the sort of level of fame that we are creating for murderers. It is that type of fame which is particularly attractive to young people, to immature people, to people who have been brought up to watch the Westerns and the bandits on television, to see the romance of crime, the fame of Billy the Kid, and various killers.

There is just one case that we should remember. It is the case of two young men, one named Fox and the other Rhodes. Fox had committed what I think most of us would have found to be a particularly unattractive murder. He strangled his mother for the insurance and lit the room to make it appear like fire. When he was in the condemned cell a young criminal called Rhodes, who was in the same prison, had, amongst his chores, to clean out the death cell while Fox was at exercise. Fox was the famous man. He was the man whose picture was in the paper—the man about whom articles had been written. He became young Rhodes' hero, and Rhodes determined that he would be as famous as Fox.

When Rhodes came out of prison he waylaid a perfectly innocent girl on Blackheath. He struck her down from behind and killed her. He went into that death cell delighted with himself. Now he was no longer the insignificant man who cleaned out the cell, but the famous man who was going to be hanged. And he was hanged. I am not considering him. I am considering the unhappy girl on Blackheath who died because we had a death penalty.

I am also considering the bank guard at Worthing. As I see this, Terry could not stand the fame of his friends Forsyth and Harris. These two had become famous men, but nobody knew of Victor Terry. He felt the urge to be famous too, and life was quite a small price to pay for it. One can find many other examples. Television may have something to do with it, but this is far more ancient than television—the attraction, the fame, and the thought in this sort of mind that death seems a small price to pay for such celebrity. If the right hon. Gentleman cares for the victims, then, at least in this young class, these immature minds, among those who find attraction—and I say "attraction" deliberately—in the death penalty and the fame which goes with it, I say take that attraction out of murder and we will save a good many victims.

10.30 p.m.

The second point—and again it is a point which I apologise for repeating, because it has been made by my hon. Friend but I desire to emphasise it—is the terrible element of the defeatism of killing a child of 18. With our resources, with our knowledge, with our understanding, we are defeated by a child of that age, and the only solution we can find is to destroy it. The human body is a rather wonderful thing. Should we destroy it, save for real necessity? Should we really take the attitude: we can do nothing with this child, with this thing which is so young, except to take it and kill it?

Consider for a moment the girl Valerie Salter, the girl of whom Mr. Justice Stable spoke those most moving words when he said: "Your heart is very young." She was 18. She loved this man Terry. He took her to Scotland. He could as well have taken her to the bank. If he had taken her to the bank, like Bentley she would have been guilty of murder, and capital murder. As the judge said, her heart is very young, but her neck is old enough to stretch. Do we really want that sort of thing? Do we need it for our safety?

My hon. Friend has mentioned the case of Loeb who was guilty of a crime which shocked the world perhaps more than any crime, certainly in my lifetime, a murder for a thrill, in Chicago. Loeb at 18 was as vicious as a child of 18 can be. Is that really vicious? It is too immature for viciousness to have formed. He has turned out to be a character who has rendered great service to the educational system of America, and he is leading a life which is admirable and devoted to public service.

If one wanted another example, one could read the confessions of St. Augustine, for he was another of these criminal 18-year-olds. Are we so defeatist as to say when dealing with a child of this age that we can do nothing except deliberately to destroy this work of God? I do not believe it. My difficulty in talking to the right hon. Gentleman is that I know that he does not believe it either. That is the difficulty of advancing the intellectual argument to the right hon. Gentleman. We know that he appreciates it. We know that he knows as well as we do that capital punishment is no deterrent to murder. With all the statistics, all the evidence, all the facts, he knows that this is unnecessary. He knows that this public killing is but a human sacrifice to the demand of the mob. He who makes and orders this sacrifice is sacrificing to a god he does not believe in, for he does not believe in the efficacy of what he does. That is what we are against. Pontius Pilate washed his hands, but all humanity since has known that those hands were not clean and never could be clean. The right hon. Gentleman's hands will not be cleaned by washing.

Mr. John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has advanced the whole of his argument on the basis that the death penalty for capital murder as we now have it in our law is no deterrent, but that is not the question which is at issue. We are confined in this new Clause to saying whether it should be applicable to those between the ages of 18 and 21, and whether generally the death penalty for capital murder is or is not a deterrent is not in issue.

The other basis of his argument was that if we take a human life, particularly a young one under the age of 21, we must consider only what is the proper treatment for that particular life in those particular circumstances, but the whole basis of the argument in favour of the death penalty must be—must it not?—not the effect upon the person to whom it is to be applied because, of course, it is ultimately the end of his life, but the effect upon others who are likely to be deterred from crime. We come back to the great problem of the criminal law as to whether or not it is justifiable for the State, for the protection of the individuals in the State, to take a life, not for the benefit of that man whose life is taken, but for the protection of society itself.

The hon. and learned Member began his speech upon the thesis that those who are between the ages of 17 and 21 are likely to commit murder because of the notoriety they will receive from the fact that they are most likely to be hanged. A more fantastic proposition for those who have ever seen or had anything to do with the ordinary murderer, capital or otherwise. I find it difficult to imagine. It may well be that there are rare exceptional cases who think that their only hope of ultimate immortality is to commit a murder, but the vast majority of people who embark upon murders have no such thoughts in their minds. Their determination is that they will not be caught and, motivated by greed, or lust or avarice, they embark upon a crime, not for the purpose of being caught and hanged, but in order to achieve their object and escape.

If it was likely that many people would commit murder for the purpose of being hanged, it would be a very sensible thing to say that they should not be hanged, but, if one looks at the majority of cases and not at exceptional cases, one will find inevitably that the young thug between the ages of 17 and 21 who embarks upon a course that leads him to murder does so deliberately, with his eyes open and from the worst of motives.

Mr. Abse

In discussion of a previous Clause I indicated that 40 per cent. of those who committed murder committed suicide before they could be hanged. How can it be suggested the murderer has such rationality as the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson) is attributing to him when he completely sacrifices his life by committing suicide rather than attempting to evade the consequences?

Mr. Hobson

Of course, the varieties of murderers are as infinite as Cleopatra or Heinz's 57 varieties. There are a great number of unbalanced people who are prepared to take their own life and who often, as a side-issue to taking it, take the life of another in order to take him or her with them. But very few of those who commit suicide are those who embark on what are now capital murders.

We are talking now only of capital murders which are those committed in pursuance of theft or in order to evade arrest, or those of policemen or warders in the execution of their duty. The punishment for such murders is intended to, and does in fact, operate chiefly upon people like Terry and the others who embark upon crimes such as gangsters and young thugs embark upon.

Mr. Paget

I entirely agree, of course, that the number of people who commit murder just for the thrill of being murderers is a small proportion, although it is probably larger than many people realise. As for the other class to whom the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, those who commit murder in the belief that they will get away with it, they do not think that they are going to be hanged.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I think there is a tendency for the debate to go beyond the Clause being discussed, which is purely one of age.

Mr. Hobson

I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was submitting to the House that those between the ages of 18 and 21 who embark on a crime which involves them in a conviction for capital murder are those who have done so with their eyes open from motives usually of lust, greed or avarice.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hobson

I am sorry, but I have given way sufficiently already.

The only question before the House is whether those persons should be in a different position from those who are over 21 years of age or whether they should be in the same position as those who are now under 18 years of age. I am bound to say that it is the experience of those who practise in the criminal courts that there is quite an astonishing maturity in many of those who are now convicted of crimes of violence. One frequently finds that the leader of the gang is, in fact, not 18 but 14, 15 or 16, and people of that very tender age do with great deliberation lead others into committing crimes of great violence.

Mr. Abse

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman want to hang them too?

Mr. Hobson

Certainly not, but we have to look, as we always must look in questions of capital murder, at the deterrent effect. While on the one side there may be the exceptional youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who will commit the crime for the notoriety that it will bring him, I am convinced that there are a very large majority of youths who are far more normal and rational and who would never embark upon a course of conduct which they thought was likely to bring them to the gallows, and that the majority of youths are frightened and are deterred from embarking upon such crimes merely by the fact that they know that to do so is likely to lead to their forfeiting their own lives at such an early age.

We have, as the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) pointed out, still the protection of the discretion of the Home Secretary in recommending a reprieve in any particular case of a person between the ages of 18 and 21 convicted of capital murder, who is suffering from either an abnormality of mind sufficient to require his conviction for manslaughter or diminished responsibility to be the proper verdict, or for some other reason such as immaturity of mind which makes it improper or wrong that he should be punished.

We come back again to the very great problem of the difference between the capital sentence and what is to be done to a person who commits such crimes.

10.45 p.m.

I certainly appeared once for a young man of 19 who murdered his aunt in circumstances of the most appalling and terrible bestiality. He did so in circumstances that would arouse horror in the breast of anybody who heard that case. His defence of diminished responsibility was not accepted. He had stolen money, but the jury, perhaps, took a merciful view and did not convict him of capital murder though they might well have done so. Therefore, the question of his being hanged did not arise. But if it had done so the alternatives were that either he should have been hanged had he been convicted of capital murder or as those appearing for the defence, the psychiatrists and doctors said was the likely course, that he was so dangerous that it would have been unsafe to release him in under ten or twelve years even if he had not been convicted of capital murder and inevitably, because he was unbalanced, he would, after incarceration for ten or twelve years, knowing other people had been released, ultimately go mad and spend the rest of his life in Broadmoor.

The choice, therefore, in many of these cases is not between handing a man his life so that he may ultimately be able to make use of it or hanging him, but also of condemning him to a living death for a long period of time and ultimately sending him for the rest of his life to Broadmoor. This is a matter which raises the deepest feelings and deepest anxieties, but if, as a determent, we are to retain the death penalty for those who are over 21 in these cases which are now capital, I personally can see no reason why those who are mature and have reached the age of 18 and have assumed most of the obligations in the State except a few technical, legal ones, should not, if the Home Secretary can find no reason otherwise, suffer the same fate as those who are over 21.

Sir George Benson (Chesterfield)

I am pleased that my name is not attached to this Clause. It is rather shameful. It asks that we should cease to hang adolescents. In Denmark there has been no execution for 67 years, in Norway for 85, in Belgium for 95 and in Holland for 101 years, and here are we in the Labour Party asking that the death penalty should not be imposed on adolescents. I suppose that my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench can justify the Clause on the ground that it is the best they can hope to get out of the party opposite, but it is a humiliating thing when one thinks of what has been done on the Continent and of what we are asking for now. Although it may be humiliating to this side of the House, it is a disgrace to the other side.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)

I find myself in a slightly difficult position tonight. I am strongly opposed to the death penalty and always have been. I agree with the speeches of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) but I also agree with the main theme of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson) and the point which the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Sir G. Benson) was making the other way round. I can see no distinction between under and over 21 years of age. To me the execution of anyone is so repellent and useless that I see no point in any attempt to distinguish between old and young. Though I fully appreciate the reasons why the Opposition have tabled the Clause and understand why there was this discussion in Committee, I am not convinced that this is the right way to do it.

Miss Bacon

Perhaps I can put one thing right. The Bill deals with the under-21s. It is necessary for the House to consider whether or not hanging should be one of the penalties for people under 21. It would have been out of order on the Bill to have extended the Clause.

Mr. Kirk

I quite appreciate the hon. Lady's point. This is the extent of my difficulty. I think that the entire Clause is out of place in the Bill. We want to find some way of doing away with the terrible business altogether. I have put forward ideas in the House on this subject previously. On the Third Reading of the Homicide Bill I said that what I wanted to see was a Home Secretary who had the courage not to carry out the duty which was unfortunately laid upon him. In logic I cannot see how we can pass a Clause which abolishes the death penalty for those under 21 and retains it for those over 21. I cannot support any action which keeps the death penalty. I certainly shall not vote against the Clause. I find it difficult in logic to vote for it. Therefore, I shall not vote at all.

Mr. V. Yates

If that argument were pursued, we should never have been able to abolish the death penalty in the case of children aged 9, 10, 11 or 12. It is desirable that it should be completely abolished.

Mr. Kirk

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the point. Sir Samuel Romilly, when he brought forward a Bill abolishing the death penalty in those cases, brought forward a Bill designed for that purpose alone and discussed on that basis. This is not such a Bill.

I welcome the main provisions of the Bill. I am sorry that it does not go further in certain respects, and I believe that many hon. Members are. I do not think that a discussion of something which I regard as completely separate morally, legally and in every other way, comes in on the Bill. This is my difficulty. I certainly cannot vote against the Clause. I find it difficult to vote for it. I hope that the Home Secretary, whom I regard as one of the most liberal and humane we have had for a long time, will bear in mind the great strength of feeling that there is on this issue. I ask him to remember that the Kingdom of Belgium has never officially abolished the death penalty but has simply stopped using it. He has it within his power to do the same. He is the only Home Secretary we have.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the feelings which have been expressed. Despite what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington said about deterrents, the Worthing bank murder occurred within two hours of an execution of people of much the same age. My right hon. Friend should bear all this in mind and draw the natural conclusion from it. I hope that very soon we shall be given an opportunity to discuss the whole question of the death penalty. Then I would find myself in the Lobby with those who want to abolish it altogether. I do not think this is the right way, and therefore I shall not vote.

Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)

In fairness to the Home Secretary, it ought to be said that it is not correct that he could in the long run, while the death penalty is still the law of the land, abolish it administratively by never allowing it to be applied. That statement ought not to go out from the House uncorrected.

Mr. M. Foot

The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) is an opponent of capital punishment generally, but I think he is somewhat over-scrupulous in the objections he voiced in saying that it is wrong for the Opposition to table the new Clause. After all, if the hon. Gentleman is an opponent of capital punishment, surely he wishes to see the horror mitigated. The effect of passing the Clause would be to mitigate the horror of capital punishment in this country, and indeed to mitigate the horror as it affects some people who might be regarded as the most inoffensive sufferers under the capital punishment law. I therefore cannot see how any opponent of capital punishment can hesitate to support this new Clause.

It may perfectly well be said that they would prefer the Government to introduce a debate on the whole subject—that, I can understand—but I cannot understand how those hon. Members opposite who oppose capital punishment—and we know that there are several hon. Members opposite who are very sincerely and passionately opposed to it—can possibly fail to vote for this new Clause. Indeed, it would be quite contrary to the traditions of this House. This is a question of capital punishment. This Clause would decide whether two or three persons—not a large number—between 18 and 21 years of age will be hanged or not. That is what people will vote about. Therefore, I believe that every hon. Member opposite who is opposed to capital punishment is under an obligation to vote for the Clause.

Moreover, although, as has already been said, we are not debating the general issue of capital punishment, it is the case that those who are opposing this new Clause have a more difficult case to present than if they were opposing the general case against capital punishment. They have to prove something more. I am opposed to capital punishment. I do not believe that we will deter a single murderer—that may be an exaggeration; we may deter one or two, although I do not think so—but, surely, if capital punishment is a deterrent at all then, on the argument advanced by its supporters, we will deter fewer people in this age category than in any other category, because between these ages people are likely to calculate least.

The hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson) shakes his head. Does he say that those between 18 and 21 will calculate more than those over 21 as to whether, if they take an action, they will be caught and, therefore, calculate, because of capital punishment, whether or not to do it? Does he think that those over 21 years are likely to calculate more, or not? Will he answer that?

Mr. Hobson

I shook my head only because all the statistics relating to those between the ages of 17 and 21 show a great increase in the incidence of crimes of violence. These are 5½ and 11 times the previous rate. People of that age group are the very people who are now embarking on crimes of violence, and should be deterred.

Mr. Foot

But there are more crimes committed by those over 21 than by those under that age, are there not?

Mr. Hobson

There are more of them.

Mr. Foot

Of course. There is no use the hon. and learned Gentleman laughing as if it were of little account. He has presented the most startling proposition. He says that the people under 21 calculate just as much as do those over 21 about whether they will carry a gun, about whether or not they may be involved in this situation. I should have thought it common sense to say that the person who is less mature calculates less than the one who is more mature. That is not a startling proposition.

If we take all the cases that have come into the newspapers—Bentley and all the others—they were immature people. It is, therefore, very foolish for the hon. and learned Gentleman to propose that we should hang a few more of these youngsters—because that is what he does propose, and will vote for, and ask his hon. Friends to vote for. What he has to prove—and so far there has not been any attempt from that side to do so—is that those under 21 are not less likely to be deterred than those over 21.

I believe that common sense says that the younger people are the more likely—they will not calculate at all. That is the very reason why we fix a minimum age at all. All the hon. and learned Gentleman's arguments are arguments for reducing the age limit to 12, or even below that. I do not know whether the Home Secretary will present the argument, but no argument has yet been presented from the other side as to why we should proceed with the hanging of those under 21—the very few involved—not a single argument at all. All that they have done is to use the general argument in favour of capital punishment without trying to distinguish at all.

11.0 p.m.

I agree, and I am sure all my hon. Friends agree, with my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Sir G Benson) that it is a shame that we should have to make such a proposition at all, but if we have to make such a proposition surely it is obvious and must be obvious to the Home Secretary that the people under 21 are less likely to calculate than people over 21—if, indeed, anybody calculates in these respects.

I am sure that the Home Secretary, who has this appalling responsibility of exercising the Royal Prerogative, has had greater difficulty in deciding what he is going to do about a person under 21 than about persons over 21. Does the Home Secretary deny that, when he has had to exercise this Prerogative, about which he is so secretive towards the House of Commons—I will come to that in a moment—the question of whether the person is or is not under 21 comes into the consideration? He would not deny that, would he? Of course it comes in. Why? Precisely because there is a difference, or he thinks there is a difference, because the person under 21 is less responsible, less mature. If the Home Secretary nods his head and says "Yes", that when he exercises the Royal prerogative he draws a distinction between those over 21 and those under that age, why does he not draw it in the Bill? If he admits there is a difference, then he is admitting that there should be a distinction. He is saying in his own mind that people under a certain age are less mature than the ones over that certain age. So he is admitting that there is a basis for the argument. He may say that people under 21 have committed as vicious crimes as people over 21, but he is admitting there is a distinction, and, therefore, it is no good his hon. Friends saying there is no such distinction.

The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington dismissed entirely the argument put by my hon. and learned Friend that the show of false glamour used by the Press to describe murderers had effect in encouraging or enticing or twisting young people to become murderers themselves. How very foolish of the hon. and learned Member to be so dogmatic in these matters. He does not know what persuades people to become murderers. He would have to go into the matter very deeply indeed to know. Indeed, if we murder all the murderers we shall never discover what is the truth. The hon. and learned Gentleman does not know, but he comes down here and lays down dogmatically what he says and what his hon. Friends who have studied the matter have said. I would guarantee that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has studied murders and murdering and the whole business of crime even more than the hon. and learned Gentleman, but the hon. and learned Gentleman lays down the rule absolutely dogmatically. He says that the Press has nothing to do with it.

I am not saying who is right or wrong in this argument, but the hon, and learned Gentleman is so dogmatic in saying all this false glamour has nothing to do with it when a murderer goes into court and says, "I am not copying Dillinger at all". The hon. and learned Member says that has nothing to do with and could not possibly cause murder. He is so very dogmatic about it, and because of his dogmatism he will send someone to his death. Next week or the week after maybe some boy will go into court and say that he was not trying to be a second or third Dillinger. It may not be the real reason he committed the murder; maybe it is the real reason. But the hon. and learned Gentleman is going to vote for the death of that person. The difference between him and my hon. Friend is that the hon. and learned Gentleman is dogmatic, and says, "Because I know what is right, I am going to commit these people to death". My hon. Friend says, "Because I do not know what is the cause of these murders, I am not going to exact the extreme penalty".

Which is the right decision? Which is the wise decision? The person who is so certain and dogmatic as to say, "Because I know I am right I am going to send these boys of 18 to 21 to their deaths", or the person who says, "Because I do not know the answer, I should prefer to send them to a prison to see whether they can be reformed."?

The hon. and learned Gentleman says, "Well, I will take an alternative argument"—as if people should be allowed to take alternative arguments in matters of this kind. He says, "It may be that sending them to Broadmoor is even more terrible than killing them." If that is so, he had better get it broadcast in the newspapers; it might be a more terrible deterrent. He ought to be more careful in what he is doing. We might have another Bentley case very soon, and hon. Gentlemen opposite who vote against this new Clause will be responsible for sending to his death some poor miserable, twisted youth who, it may be, knew what he was doing, or, it may be, did not. There is not a single hon. Member who would be able to decide whether that person was guilty in the sense that we mean guilt.

It has been said by some—indeed, it has been quoted from the Report of the Royal Commission—that, maybe because of the difficulties in deciding in these matters, it is better that we should leave it to the Home Secretary to decide, that we should leave him to exercise the Royal prerogative. I agree with everything that was said about that by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton. If the Leader of the House could have a free vote in this matter, I believe that he would vote for this Clause. I think that intellectually the right hon. Gentleman must be convinced. I believe that anybody who has studied the facts must be convinced intellectually of the case against capital punishment.

Certainly I am not prepared to put any faith in the exercise of the Royal prerogative by the right hon. Gentleman. Like most of the rest of the world, I cannot make head or tail of it. I cannot discover from looking at a case whether it was right or wrong. The right hon. Gentleman does not understand it. I know that he has a difficult job and it must be very anxious for him. The more anxious it is, the better, so far as I am concerned. I hope that it causes him extreme anxiety, because probably the only reason we shall get rid of capital punishment in this country—although we ought to have done it years ago—is the anxiety of Home Secretaries.

It is a curious thing that when they are in office most Home Secretaries are in favour of capital punishment, but when they are out of office they are opposed to it. Why? Because when they are out of office, they are exercising their judgment. When they are in office they are so much subdued by their lives and the pressures on them by permanent secretaries, and all the other matters which come in to affect their decisions, that they cannot decide. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to laugh about it. Does he mean to say that he makes up his mind about these matters without allowing anything else to enter into his mind? If so, he must be a remarkable specimen of humanity.

Mr. R. A. Butler

The hon. Gentleman was exhibiting considerable humanity in his speech. My smiles were those of sympathy with that rather than criticism.

Mr. Foot

Anybody who can sort that out ought to be Prime Minister. What does it mean? It means nothing.

We can judge only by outward events. Some people are hanged when it would seem that in some cases even more vicious murderers are let off. One cannot discover why. All we can discover is from cases where we know that innocent people were hanged, such as the case of Timothy Evans. Even in that case the Home Office will not give a reprieve after years. It will not say that Timothy Evans was innocent, though everybody else in the House believes he was. And why?—For reasons of State. I say that reasons of State also influence the decisions that the Home Secretary makes in exercising the Royal prerogative. That is one of the reasons why some of us can have no faith in it whatsoever.

I believe that there is no sound case which can be put against the new Clause. There is no argued case which can be presented against the proposal made from this side of the House. The reason the Government are opposing the proposal is that there is a general mood. They say there is a wave of crime. They have all the irrelevant figures quoted by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) in an earlier debate, and they say "This is a time when we are all reading in the newspapers about a wave of crime and brutal murders, some of them committed by young people under 21. In the circumstances of this general mood it would be wrong for the Home Office to make a retreat."

I believe that is the real reason why an intelligent and sometimes humane Minister like the Home Secretary refuses to accept the Clause. That is a quite improper reason for condemning a few miserable youths to death. The case must be argued in detail. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman has not merely to put the general case again capital punishment, although I doubt whether he believes in that particularly after some years of trying to administer the Homicide Act. He has to do something much more than that. He has to show that it is necessary for the safety of the country, for the well-being of the country and for the protection of the people that we should continue with the process of hanging every year two or three people between these ages even though we know when we examine the facts that in pretty well every case it can be decided for certain that the threat of capital punishment would not have deterred—because the crimes have been committed even with the threat of capital punishment in any case.

So it is a much more difficult case that the Home Secretary has to present than the general case against capital punishment. I should have thought that in trying to show that he is a humane Home Secretary this is the very smallest concession that the right hon. Gentleman might have been willing to give, particularly when the whole of the weight of the arguments presented in the House today and in the Standing Committee has been on one side and the only argument on the other side has been the general mood, a vague argument which is not relevant to the case at all.

Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)

I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but I am drawn to do so after some of the observations of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot). He repeatedly said that the Home Secretary would have to show this or show that. I should have thought that the onus of proof was on those who wish to change the law, not on those who wish to retain it as it is.

Much of this debate has been taken up by hon. Members who are either sincere and convinced abolitionists or lawyers. I venture to give the opinion of one who is neither. It seems to me that to justify the Clause it would be necessary to show one of three things.

It might be argued that since the age of 18 was fixed as the minimum age at which persons could suffer capital punishment there had been a considerable decrease in the number of murders committed by people between 18 and 21. Unfortunately, the precise reverse is the case.

Alternatively, it would be open to the sponsors and supporters of the Clause to try to show that since the age was fixed persons between 18 and 21 have for some reason become less responsible for their actions than they were at that time. There again, we know that the reverse is the case. We know that it is a scientific fact that young people are maturing physically materially earlier than was the case ten or twelve years ago. I certainly think well enough of our education system to believe that they are also educationally further advanced. Consequently, as I have said, a young person between the ages of 18 and 21 can be expected today to bear the consequences for his acts more and not less than was the case some years ago. 11.15 p.m.

Mr. John Diamond (Gloucester)

Can the hon. Member adduce any evidence to show that the adolescent is today mentally more mature than formerly, and also to show that he is emotionally more mature?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I cannot think so badly of the Education Act, 1944, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and of the work done by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), as to believe that there has been no advance in mental maturity. I am certain that there has been an advance. Whether there has been an advance in emotional maturity is a matter of opinion.

The only other argument that might be advanced, but which has not been put forward, is that there is some alternative punishment which is equally, if not more, effective. One of the strongest arguments against this change at the present time is the widespread belief among young people of the kind who are, unfortunately, liable to commit violent crimes, that imprisonment for life means incarceration only for four or five years. That may be quite untrue. None the less, I find, in talking to some of my wilder young constituents, that there is a fixed belief among the young toughs in the country that if they "lay on", as they call it, "an act of contrition", they will be out in four or five years. There is, unfortunately, no means of disproving that in a short period of time.

I see no grounds for changing the law at present, and I repeat that the onus lies on those who wish to change it to prove that it should be changed.

Mr. Mendelson

The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) said he found himself in considerable difficulty. One can well understand the nature of the difficulty, because, being opposed to capital punishment in general, he cannot see how one is justified in voting for the Clause.

I support this Clause, and not only for the reasons that have been advanced so far. I believe that it is a useful and important Clause in its own right. I want to link this with something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot). I think that he was correct in assembling some of the factors that must be the basis of the Home Secretary's decision when advising on the Royal prerogative. Certainly, age must come into it, but I do not go along with my hon. Friend when he says that the public mood is something that ought not to weigh with the Home Secretary when making up his mind. That is asking the impossible. I cannot conceive of any important act of State by any responsible Minister where he does not, in some way, either consciously or subconsciously, take into account the public mood.

There is a very good reason why the hon. Member for Gravesend, as there is for me and other hon. Members, should support this Clause, and that is the need to advance step by step. It is perfectly true—and it must be admitted in serious debate—that there are quite a number of serious people in the country—not only those who never take time to think about these matters—who are gravely concerned about the development of crime. Because of that the choice of the reformer, as it always has been, is between advancement all the way, or most of the way, at once, and advancement step by step.

It seemed to me that the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson) was not accepting a great deal of the reports of recent research. Unhappily, most of that research has not been done in this country. We ought to be much more advanced in organised research into these matters, bearing in mind our standing in other fields of science and learning. Most of the research has been done in other countries—some of it in Scandinavia—and, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, it proves quite conclusively that there is a difference in the approach and the character of the younger criminal compared with the older one.

It is important that my hon. Friends and some hon. Gentlemen opposite should not be deterred by the consideration that perhaps there is something wrong in asking for special consideration for people in this category when they would like to do something which would bring about a change in the law in general.

When we consider the reasons why research has proved that there is a difference in the make-up of the young offender, we find that the main difference lies in the anticipation of the consequences of crime. I was rather surprised to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman speak so lightly about this irrational element in the make-up of the criminal. That irrational element, which is in the make-up of most murderers, if not all, is particularly present in the make-up of the young offender. There is, therefore, an additional reason why we should be particularly careful about whether to apply this final assumption to people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one.

My next point concerns another consideration applying to the young criminal. The chance and the hope of reclaiming him for society is somewhat greater than in the case of a confirmed criminal of middle age. A good deal of research is being carried on at Cambridge University, and at other universities. I have recently heard that some of the most interesting results might be precisely in that direction; that as the years go by one might, as a result of these researches, know more—and the State needs to know a great deal more, and so do hon. Members—about the chances of reclaiming a criminal. At any rate, on present results there might be more hope of doing that for the younger offender than for the old and confirmed criminal.

I should like to refer to an intervention I made when the hon. Member for Gravesend said that it might be possible for the Home Secretary, through his Department, after conviction, more or less administratively gradually to abolish at any rate the application of capital punishment. I dissented from that point of view and I was asked by some of my hon. Friends why I did so. There is great difficulty in putting the entire responsibility for bringing about this change on one Minister. There is great difficulty with public opinion.

I do not regard it as in any way dishonourable for the Home Secretary to have some regard for the point of view of people who are his supporters in the country, not in any petty or small political way, or when he has to use his judgment before advising the head of a State, but in other ways. If the advance and reform in a serious matter of this kind is carried on in the wrong way, if the wrong steps are taken, there might be a set-back.

I share the assumption of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale and other hon. Members that the Home Secretary is moving towards a solution to this problem, to which he has to make a contribution, as all of us are trying to do, that might be in the direction of reforming the law in such a way that would allow us to get on without capital punishment, but I think that we ought to share the burden with him. I submit that one effective way of sharing it is to support a Clause of this kind, because it is our task to educate public opinion. If we are satisfied that on the results of inquiries and past experience of the criminal code there is no real correlation—and, therefore, no effective deterrent—between capital punishment and the sort of motives that produce murder, we ought to give a lead and we ought to give that lead jointly.

I urge all hon. Members who feel that they can support this Clause to be convinced that they would be making a useful contribution because growing opinion in this House has an effect on public opinion. For these reasons, I am very glad to support the new Clause.

Sir D. Glover

Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), I had no intention of intervening in this debate, but many experts have spoken and, like him, I should like to put the point of view of the ordinary man-in-the-street.

I do not think that any hon. Member, whichever line he takes on capital punishment, takes satisfaction in it one way or the other. It is a dreadful subject to contemplate and I am certain that everyone would like to do away with it; but I am sincerely convinced that it acts as a deterrent. It is, perhaps, not unreasonable to take the point of view of the general mass of the public into consideration. In discussions in this House hon. Members tend to think that people in the country have not thought this matter out for themselves. I have thought it out in the same way as I think a great many others have done. I am certain that capital punishment would be a deterrent to me and I believe that the great mass of people think that it would be a deterrent to them.

We are not, however, debating capital punishment but the age of responsibility. That is what this Clause is about. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) about his difficulty. I am in no difficulty, because I shall oppose this Clause, but I see his difficulty. This is not a Clause dealing with capital punishment. The new Clause says that the age of responsibility should be raised. I think that hon. Members opposite are a little illogical about this. I am not certain that I am on firm ground here—they produce so many policy documents—but a few months ago there was a strong move to bring the voting age down to 18. If that is the view of the Socialist Party, surely it is its considered opinion that a person between the ages of 18 and 21 is just as responsible as a person of 21 and over.

Miss Bacon

The document to which the hon. Member has referred was not a policy document of the Labour Party.

Sir D. Glover

It was certainly a document from the Labour Party.

Miss Bacon


Mr. Weitzman rose

Sir D. Glover

No, I shall not give way again.

We say that a boy of 18 is old enough to do National Service in the Armed Forces. Presumably, we think that at that age he is fully-grown and a man of judgment. In this Clause hon. Members are trying to say that something which has been the law for many years should now be altered when statistics show that, in fact, people are maturing earlier, that they are "older" and more responsible at an earlier age. That should, therefore, be an argument for bringing the age down, not for raising it. If we are dealing with the whole question of capital punishment, then I think we can bring powerful arguments both ways, but I support my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend in saying that the Bill has nothing to do with capital punishment, that this new Clause is really out of context, and that I have no difficulty in opposing it.

Mr. MacColl

One of the things which the Bill does among others is to amend the Children and Young Persons Act. It is that Act and not the Criminal Justice Act which, in fact, fixes the minimum age for the death penalty. Therefore, I think that it is absolutely in order and right that any Bill that seeks to amend the Children and Young Persons Act must seek to amend this Clause.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Diamond

I imagine that every hon. Member has had the same experience as I have had in canvassing for election. When doing so we come across one particular, rather stubborn voter and we try very hard to secure, if we can, the vote of that voter. We waste perhaps a good deal of time concentrating upon him. I am out to get the vote of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk). I set myself that challenge because if I cannot convince the hon. Member, who is in favour of the abolition of capital punishment as I am, on all grounds that it is right, necessary, responsible and inevitable for him to vote on this matter if it goes to a vote, to come into the Lobby with us in favour of the Clause, then I really doubt whether I am justified in being here at all.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that we are dealing here with a Bill which affects those between the ages of 18 and 21 and that we have to say either that we are to leave the matter as it is or that we are going to alter it. Neither he nor I wish to escape any of our responsibilities. We are not going to challenge the whole of Parliamentary procedure by discussing the matter not on a particular Bill, but on the generic subject of hanging as a whole, because we cannot do it that way. We cannot challenge the whole of Parliamentary procedure, and, therefore, he and I are face to face with this problem.

Is the hon. Gentleman going to walk out of his responsibility, or is he going into one or other of the Division Lobbies as an hon. Member, as a courageous Member, as a man? I suggest to him that he cannot evade his responsibility for a variety of reasons. We know that if this Clause is carried two or three young persons will be living in a year's time who would otherwise be dead. Maybe the number will be greater, but we know that that is the likely figure. I am not going to take the responsibility of washing my hands of the matter and say, "It is all too difficult for me. I am an ordinary back bencher. Let the Government and the Opposition Front Bench decide." I do not take that view.

I see two or three potentially valuable lives at stake, and I am going to vote for the retention of those lives, because I believe that it is in the general good and the good of humanity as a whole. I invite the hon. Member for Gravesend to picture three young men—hooligans, or however he likes to describe them—who will be living or dead in a year's time, dependent, perhaps, on whether he votes in the Lobby or does not vote at all.

It has been properly said that what we are discussing tonight is not the general principle, but the application of a general principle. It is a most debatable point whether at 17 and below a person shall not hang but at 17 and over he shall hang. This is where we have drawn the line, and it is clearly a most debatable point. If there is any argument in favour of the abolition of the death penalty it is at this point that it is surely most easy to persuade those who are persuadable and public opinion as a whole that at all events, if we cannot do away with capital punishment completely, we can raise men's horizons just an inch or two at a time.

This is the point that we are discussing and it is for two major reasons that I appeal to the hon. Member to join us in the Lobby when we come to vote. The first is, as I am sure he will admit, that he and I are partly responsible for some of the murders that have taken place. He and I and all the rest of us and, with the greatest respect, you, Mr. Speaker, all accept a cultural pattern and a standard of society in which violence is acceptable. Violence is portrayed in the cinema, and I was a cinema managing director who put on violent films in many of my cinemas because they paid me, because people came to see them. This is the general pattern of most cinemas today. In my defence, I might add that I put on all sorts of different films as well.

We are all responsible for accepting a cultural pattern under which violence becomes acceptable, particularly to young people. Young people starting to go to the cinema and to look at television see these films of violence. Very often, good moral conclusions are drawn. The villain loses his life and the hero wins, but it is all part of the pattern of violence. Therefore, we need not be surprised that if young people are brought up against a background of violence they should seem to regard violence as less of an evil than an older generation did.

All our behaviour is a cultural pattern derived from our environment, and if we are brought up in an environment where killing is permitted and there is nothing wrong in killing and where violence is permitted, obviously a young person's introduction to violence must be that it is more or less acceptable, that it is a thing which grown-ups accept. As these young people mature and get on in years they realise that life outside the cinema and the television set is not like what is portrayed inside—that violence does not pay, that sensible, civilised people do not accept violence. But it seems to the young in their early beginning as if they did.

Therefore, I say to the hon. Member for Gravesend, and with modesty to the House, that we are all responsible for this, and this is one of the reasons why we should see to it that those who have had the opportunity of seeing violence portrayed as being acceptable and have not yet sufficiently wide experience to know that violence is not acceptable, namely, the immature who can be conveniently described as between the ages of 18 and 21, should be safeguarded and not be subject to the death penalty. I say that they can be "conveniently described" in this way, because there is no accurate description. No 10,000 people of 18 are exactly the same.

That is one reason. There is another reason that I want to put, and I am only putting those reasons which have not been put already forcibly and well by many of my hon. Friends and one or two hon. Members opposite. I do not want to repeat what has been said already in the debate, but another reason which seems to me very impor tant is that none of us can imagine our own death. It is quite impossible for the human mind to contemplate the extinction of the personality which is doing the contemplating. We can contemplate what may happen tomorrow. We can contemplate coming here tomorrow at the appropriate time, continuing the debate and taking part in Divisions, but we cannot contemplate our extinction. It is even less possible for a young person to contemplate his extinction. A young person, a person between 18 and 21, is utterly incapable of making the deep, difficult reckoning that makes any approach to such a contemplation. It is impossible for the mature. It is infinitely more impossible for the immature.

It is nonsense to suggest that an immature person between 18 and 21 is capable of calculating in the sense of saying, "I realise what I am doing. It is an evil thing. I will be wiped out. I will cease to exist. I know what that means. I can understand it. I can fully comprehend it". It is just incomprehensible to a person of that age. Therefore, it is right that a person of that age should not be subject to the death penalty.

This was brought home to me very strongly indeed by a letter one of my hon. Friends showed me. It was from a man in the death cell who had written to his Member of Parliament making a complaint about a trivial matter of procedure in the prison. The man was about to die. He knew that he was about to die. That seemed to him to be of such little importance that he was not even writing to his M. P. about it. In the few days of life which remained to him he thought it appropriate to draw attention to a tiny, footling matter of procedure. We all get footling matters to deal with. The man felt the injustice of that. He could understand the injustice of that, but he could not understand the discontinuance of his own personality. We are incapable of understanding that. He could not, and he was a mature man. A fortiori a boy of 18 cannot.

I appeal to the hon. Member for Gravesend and to all those who have been good enough to listen to me. Let us at all events attempt to raise our horizons just an inch or two and help forward a society in which violence is not approved by State violence and in which young persons are undisturbed as young persons and protected from the death penalty.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Deedes

The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) has spoken very persuasively, and I have no doubt that he has persuaded my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk). He would have persuaded me more, as would other hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on the Clause, had anything more been said on the subject of the alternative which hon. Gentlemen have in mind in putting forward the Clause. This was touched upon by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson). It is an aspect which must be dwelt upon if the Clause is to be given serious thought.

The alternative which I have in mind is something which hon. Members opposite who support the Clause probably would not wish to contemplate. I have in mind a sentence of imprisonment of very great length as an alternative to the death penalty for the young who commit this particular category of murder. We are talking now of capital murder only, that is, murder for which they can be hanged.

The problem of the alternative is one of the most difficult things in the whole subject of capital punishment. It is most difficult in the age category which we are discussing in the Clause, and for more than one reason. One reason which will occur to all hon. Members is that any prolonged sentence of imprisonment for someone under 21 can have advanced against it many of the arguments which have been advanced tonight in favour of the Clause—for instance, immaturity of mind, and so on.

There is one point which arises out of this on which I would follow the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M Foot). He spoke of the very great responsibilities of the Home Secretary in respect of the death penalty. Does it occur to him how great the responsibilities of the Home Secretary would be in the particular respect of the Clause if it were put into effect? None of us knows what the length of the alternative might be. We do not now know what the length of the alternative is None of us knows what life in prison amounts to, because it varies in each case, as it would here.

As I understand the law, in this category the decision to release a young person who had undergone sentence of imprisonment as the alternative to being hanged would lie with my right hon. Friend. He would decide, on the recommendation and advice given to him, when the release should be made. Much has been said tonight about lives at stake. There would be lives at stake—there might be lives at stake—in the decision that my right hon. Friend would be called upon to take because, although we know from the statistics and the evidence before the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment that the occasions on which a murder has been committed for the second time after a sentence of imprisonment can, I think, be numbered on the fingers of one hand, that would not, in my view, diminish the enormous responsibility imposed on the Home Secretary in weighing the recommendations for the release of a young person who had committed a murder—obviously, of the most heinous character, because that is the type of murder of which we are talking.

I believe that the difference, certainly between myself and those who have spoken in favour of the new Clause is that I would not be prepared lightly to take the risk to society, to innocent life, involved in the early release of a young person who might be suffering the alternative—

Mr. MacColl

I do not think that the hon. Member could have been in the House because I did, in fact, deal with the point he had raised earlier. What I ventured to point out was the very small numbers that are involved here. We have already got a 16-year-old murderer, with whom all these problems must arise. Since the Homicide Act was passed there had been, to October, 1960, only two of these young persons involved. Already, these problems are being faced in respect of the other, I think, four, two of whom have already been reprieved. It is a tiny problem although, in complexity, it may be a difficult one.

Mr. Deedes

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I was not present to hear his remarks. I have checked that we are dealing with a very small minority, but we are also dealing with the possibility of what that small minority could do if undergoing the alternative.

I do not want to build up too big a hypothesis, but I think that what most hon. Members opposite would have in mind as an alternative would be a long but relatively modest sentence of imprisonment. If measured by what is now the average length of a life sentence, so-called, they would probably be justified in what they say. That is my principal reason for opposing this Clause.

I believe that it is imperative that young people today should be kept believing that murder is an awful crime, by whomsoever it is committed. The last thing I would like young people to believe would be that murder was an awful crime when committed by someone over 21—who, in cases of capital murder, would suffer the supreme penalty—but a less awful crime when committed by those between 18 and 21. It is that consideration, as well as the other argument I have advanced, that leads me to oppose the new Clause.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned. I move this Motion in accordance with an understanding reached earlier. We have managed to have no fewer than 11 speeches during a debate of more or less two hours which, I think, has added to our fund of wisdom. May I make an appeal that we may come to a decision fairly early tomorrow so that we may get on with the later parts of the Bill? I would defer my speech till tomorrow, if that would suit right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.

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