HC Deb 12 April 1961 vol 638 cc252-89

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.]

Question again proposed, That the Clause be read a Second time.

3.49 p.m.

Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I wish to support the Clause. Although we discussed this important matter an Standing Committee, I should like to bring some of the arguments to the House which I think justify making this reform now.

One hon. Member suggested last night that he could not support the Clause unless it included all persons over 21 as well as those under 21. Constitutionally, we have no power to move a Clause of that kind and we cannot suggest it now, but I would point out to the House that in all Bills dealing with children, from the days when a child aged 9, 10, 12, or 14 was hanged for committing not murder but far less severe crimes, at each stage of gradual reform there has been an attempt to increase the minimum age. It was a great tragedy that some years ago, when a similar Amendment was proposed—it was supported by such persons as Lady Astor—this reform was not carried out. It would have saved a great deal of distress and led to a better consideration of the question of crime.

The principal reason why the Clause is not acceptable has been adequately stated, I think, by the Attorney-General. He described the death sentence for those under 21, in the same way as for those over 21, as a unique deterrent. It is that which I wish to challenge, and especially do I challenge it in regard to youth. In the Standing Committee, the Attorney-General said that … in the present state of society, when the prevalence of serious crime is such a challenge to the maintenance of law and order, we cannot afford to dispense with what some of us regard as a unique deterrent against the commission of murder, and whose abolition now we believe might lead to the death of many more innocent victims. He went on to say that … if the new Clause were carried there would be more innocent victims."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 21st February, 1961; c. 680.] It is extremely difficult to argue for a Clause like this when crimes of violence have increased, and it is also difficult to argue for it when they have declined. If crimes decline, we are told that it is because we have the deterrent. If they increase, then we are told that we must have the deterrent to prevent a further increase. Every time it is a case of, "Heads I win, tails you lose".

What evidence of the deterrent effect can the Home Secretary give us? It is true that a number of judges and some of the police believe that capital punishment is a deterrent. On a number of occasions such arguments were used before the Royal Commission. But do the judges ever see the persons who are deterred? Surely they see only the persons who are not deterred. Every person who commits a murder and is brought before the court is surely a person who has not been deterred. Consequently, what evidence can the Home Secretary give of persons who have been deterred by capital punishment?

The type of argument used now has been employed at every stage. In 1814, when a youth under the age of 18 was hanged for cutting down a tree and an attempt was made to abolish capital punishment for that offence, the argument used was, "But if you do not hang persons for cutting down trees, you will have them cutting down whole plantations." A child was hanged for stealing 2d. worth of paint, and many others were hanged for stealing articles valued at 5s. The argument always was that capital punishment deterred, but there was no evidence that it did so. In the light of the terrible increase in crimes of violence, which we all deplore, I suggest that there is no evidence that the death sentence is a deterrent.

I believe that the vast majority of persons, especially young persons, who commit the crimes for which this sentence is applicable have disordered minds or are extremely immature. I would remind hon. Members of the evidence on the immaturity aspect which was given to the Royal Commission by those who advocated that capital punishment should not be imposed upon young persons under 21. I will quote to the House the words which were used in paragraph 197, and I submit that these findings were drafted not by lawyers but by medical persons and others of an entirely different character from police or lawyers.

The paragraph said: In almost all young people under the age of 21 the process of mental and emotional development is still active, and is liable to produce a condition of instability—that is, a condition in which the strength of an individual's reactions is out of proportion to the strength of the stimulus. Sometimes this instability is so pronounced as to produce ' a recognised mental disorder'. Such cases are exceptional, but it is common knowledge that most young people aged 18, 19 or 20 are liable to have emotional reactions out of proportion to the events which occasion them Their judgment is liable to be distorted and their self-control to be insecure, because those reactions are more explosive and less controllable than they are likely to be when the more active stage of emotional development has passed. I submit that that is very sound evidence for considering the Clause.

Commander J. S. Kerans (The Hartlepools)

Surely the hon. Gentleman would agree that at 18 the majority of youths should certainly know the difference between right and wrong and appreciate what they are about to do in crimes of violence.

Mr. Yates

The evidence which we are now considering does not seem to indicate that. An hon. Member argued yesterday that that might be so at 14, 15 or 16. It is extremely difficult; some persons are more mature than others. However, I should not like to make the distinction. I think that in respect of the range from 18 to 21 we should consider again whether we could not be more objective about this matter.

The second reason why I am very loath to continue the hanging of young persons is that the death sentence is irrevocable. I believe that it is still possible for innocent persons to be hanged. I will not go into that, because it might involve many more considerations.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) raised in Committee the question of alternative punishment. I am sorry that he is not here at the moment. It was an important question. He argued that a sentence of twenty to twenty-five years' imprisonment might be a deterrent. But, of course, we already have long sentences for those who are under the age of 18, and I submit that the important consideration is whether the individual who has been considered to be immature has been able to be so corrected that society need not, in the future, be protected from him.

4.0 p.m.

I think of young persons of 19 or 20 who have been sentenced to life imprisonment. I have seen some of them in prison. I saw one young man in Wake-field Gaol, and I was staggered, having asked him what his sentence was, when he replied, "I am here for life". I do not think that over ten to fifteen years he will not have been sufficiently corrected. The important consideration is whether or not society is safeguarded from future actions similar to those which an individual originally carried out and Which led to his imprisonment.

A few months ago I visited Broad-moor. I was extremely surprised to learn from the medical superintendent that, since Broadmoor began, not one of the insane murderers who had eventually been corrected and released—and there has been a considerable number of them—has ever committed a crime again. I am certain that the Home Secretary will agree that before a person is released the Home Secretary must feel a reasonable assurance that he has been corrected and will not return to a life of crime. That is a very important consideration, especially for young persons, whom we are now considering.

I cannot see the value in a youth of 20 being sentenced to twenty-five years' imprisonment. In any case, I do not believe that long sentences are the solution in this country, any more than they are a solution in the United States where they are, indeed, much longer.

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

It was I who raised the question of the length of the sentence yesterday. Obviously, on many occasions a murder by a young person is likely to be his only offence, but if the hon. Member pursues his line of argument one might ask, why punish the person involved at all?

Mr. Yates

If an individual commits murder, whether it is his only offence or not—

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Why not hang them all?

Mr. Yates

—he must be dealt with.

I was referring to the argument of the hon. Member for Ashford who, in Committee upstairs, argued about an alternative. The hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) may ask the same question as his hon. Friend the Member for Ashford—that is to say, if one cannot think of a suitable alternative, then what does one do? Does one kill them all? Is that the solution? I do not think that it is. Especially do I not think that it is a solution to the problem of youth and the immaturity of youth.

If we are to be stuck on the question of an alternative punishment, then we shall be led into many arguments which have been used in the past, always against reform, always against a change in the law. Indeed, in 1834 the Duke of Richmond, when asked to consider abolishing capital punishment for stealing letters, said: Their lordships ought not to abolish capital punishment for stealing letters until some good mode of secondary punishment has been adopted. There is only one solution to the problem. The chief deterrent to crime is not barbarous punishment, but the certainty of conviction. The Home Secretary referred yesterday to the importance of the police. Brutal punishment accustoms people to brutality and tends to increase crimes of violence. Violence breeds violence. It was once said: The right of means to do ill deeds means ill deeds done.

Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

Who starts the violence?

Mr. Yates

I say that violence breeds violence. If violence is wrong for an individual, then it is equally wrong that the State should use violence. The hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) must have realised that the Christian purpose is redemptive. Christianity asserts that the human personality is of infinite value in the sight of God, and that no one is beyond the reach of spiritual reclamation. However evil or depraved a boy or girl might be, the Christian aim in punishment must be reformation.

We will never deter young persons, however brutal their crimes, by holding the gallows in front of them. There must be a better and more constructive way. I still believe in what John Bright once said: A deep reverence for human life is worth more than 1,000 executions in the prevention of murder. It is, in fact, the great security of human life. The law of capital punishment, whilst pretending to support this reverence, does, in fact, tend to destroy it. I ask other hon. Members to support this Clause and so allow us to have another movement of reform. However much we may desire capital punishment to be abolished altogether we have no power to propose it now, but we should try to obtain at least this reform and thereby abolish capital punishment for murder by people up to the age of 21. Having abolished it, I do not believe that we should ever go back to it.

Mr. Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)

I am glad that the House has had the opportunity of debating this important issue at some length. It would have given a wrong impression if that had not been the case, in view of the fact that so much time was spent yesterday in discussing what many people regard as a minor issue.

This is an issue on which most people on both sides of the House have already adopted an attitude or a conviction to which they will hold, no matter what arguments are advanced for or against this proposal. Those convictions are held sincerely, and it is no help to intervene from a sitting position, as I feel that I was almost guilty at one moment of intervening during the argument that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) was adducing. I know how sincerely he holds the views that he puts.

The hon. Member's views about reverence for human life are shared by all who seriously consider this matter and the opinion they are to hold about capital punishment. The partisans on either side of the House do their own cases irremediable harm by the kind of jeers which sometimes pass from one side to the other. This is a matter on which everybody has very serious convictions.

Arguments about what happened in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which have been used to show how wrong the judges then were to refuse to abolish capital punishment for stealing sheep or forgery or whatever it may have been, do not apply in modern conditions and modern life. They operated in a primitive society when there was no regular police force and society demanded that there should be those tremendous punishments for crime which no one would think of imposing in our present society with a modern police force and with our present organised communities. The argument which harks back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries does not assist us in our conclusions about these matters in the twentieth century.

Why should the proposal in the Clause be limited to the age of 21? Why should it not be 24 or 25? Those who are supporting the Clause do so in the belief that capital punishment as such is infamous and they feel that any form of reduction of it would be very much to the better.

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

Why not 18?

Mr. Rawlinson

I think that it should be 18, because in view of the state of maturity which persons of that age achieve nowadays they are able to distinguish between right and wrong. Of course, there must be an arbitrary limit at some age, because the line has to be drawn somewhere. One has to decide the age at which a person must appreciate the importance of the crime he is committing and its dreadful nature and must understand that society says that if he commits it, if he deliberately determines to kill someone, then society will mark that crime for this penalty.

Even since the days of the Royal Commission, when Mr. Gerald Gardiner referred to people of 18 not being able to sign a will, and so on, there has been a remarkable change in the maturity of the younger generation in these matters. It is wrong to say that someone of 18 does not know what it means to get a gun, not only to get a gun but to load it, to put it in his pocket and later to shoot someone with it. He knows what he is doing. I have never believed that there should be capital punishment for what is known as a crime passionel—a person acting on something which drives him beyond what is ordinarily called judgment. But the man who gets a gun, who buys a gum and puts it in his pocket, who deliberately loads it before committing an offence, is the kind of man who can and should be deterred.

Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles)

Does the hon. and learned Member consider that 18 would be an appropriate age for someone to have the vote?

Mr. Rawlinson

The hon. Member makes a debating point. It may be that someone of 18 would find it difficult to decide whether to vote for the hon. Member or me, but he has no difficulty in knowing that it is not right to take a gun and to load it and to fire it and to kill someone. We have to decide what is the proper age, and I think that the right age is 18.

This is a grave responsibility and we have a unique generation, a generation which has upon it influences which other generations probably did not have, influences coming after the holocausts of the last war. We have to say that murder is a unique crime and that society must demand for it a unique and terrible punishment and I believe that the age should be maintained at 18, and I ask the House to reject the Clause.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. S. Silverman

I begin by agreeing with the hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) that no advantage arises from under-valuing either the sincerity or force of the arguments on either side. If we are to reach any kind of sane and sound solution to the problem with which we are all concerned, we do very much better to examine the arguments on their merits to the best of our conscientious judgment and ability, standing by the conclusions which we form in that way.

Therefore, before coming to the merits of the argument, I address two personal appeals. It is not much use saying that we ought to reach a conclusion according to the merits of the argument as we ultimately come to see those merits if, at the end of the argument, we cast our votes not in accordance with the judgment which we have brought to bear and with the opinions with which we have conscientiously formed, but against that opinion because it is politically convenient to the Government, or to the Whips, or to anybody else, or for any other reason.

Our practice, not invariably but for the most part, has been that the House has accepted that principle on this issue. Whenever it has done so, it has come down on the side of those who think that this penalty ought no longer to continue. But, irrespective of the conclusion it has formed, until the Homicide Act, we have always thought that this was a question which Members of Parliament ought to be entitled and ought to accept as an obligation to decide according to their judgments and consciences.

Yesterday, 69 hon. Members opposite, whose general loyalty is pledged to the Government, voted against the Government on an issue of penal reform which everyone will recognise to be, however important in itself, less important than this. During the days of the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill, I gratefully acknowledged then, and I repeat my acknowledgment now, the help of hon. Members opposite without whose support we could not have achieved the successes which we then had.

Those hon. Members showed considerable courage and integrity in doing so—I say that without any depreciation of the courage and integrity of the others—but they did so in circumstances in which the Government had agreed not merely that they should do it, but to accept the decision of the House of Commons—not of any other House—as registered by the free exercise of the honest and conscientious judgment of every hon. Member, without regard to party affiliations or other political loyalties of any kind. They did not do that when the Whips were ultimately put on.

Those 69 hon. Members who, yesterday, voted against the Government, and against me—I did not agree with them and I thought that they were wholly wrong in their judgment and in the opinion which they had formed—were wholly right, on an issue of that kind, to express their views as they did and to go on record in support of those things in which they passionately and conscientiously believed.

Is it too much to ask those who, in their hearts and consciences, agree with the new Clause to show the same independence, the same courage, and the same conscientious loyalty to their honest judgments and opinions as was shown by the 69 hon. Members yesterday on the other issue? I know, or, at least, I believe, because I cannot know, that if they did this Clause would be carried.

I know that this is a fine-drawn argument. The recommendation in favour of it was carried in the Royal Commission by a single vote. The Clause was lost in Committee upstairs by a single vote, and the votes against it included the vote of an hon. Member who is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Campaign for the Abolition of Capital Punishment. I am not blaming him. I gather from hon. Members that the hon. Member did not vote against the Clause, but only abstained from voting. If that is right, my comment must be modified to that extent, but in any case I am not blaming him or offering any kind of criticism or censure. I am saying only that on this issue, whatever one believes on other issues, one ought to cast one's vote as one thinks it ought to be cast. My appeal is to those who think we are right on this point to vote with us, whatever the Government may wish them to do.

My second appeal is directed to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

The hon Gentleman mentioned the voting on the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill. He will recall that while some hon. Members on this side of the House voted for a Second Reading of the Bill they then sought to amend the Bill in a certain specified way which, ultimately, was not very different from the formula embodied in the present law under the subsequent Act.

Mr. Silverman

If the hon. Gentleman means that there have always been some hon. Members who do not agree with me, I recognise that. That has always been so.

My second personal appeal is to the Home Secretary. I hope that he will not think it an impertinence if I say that I know where his sympathies are. I think that if he took the Whips off himself he would vote for the new Clause. He can deny that if he wishes, or if he thinks it is not right to express that opinion that is for him to say. I am expressing my belief that, but for political considerations of another kind, his sympathies would be with those of us who say that if we must retain this penalty at all then 18 is too young. If I am wrong about that, the rest of my appeal is not worth making and I will not make it.

If I am right about that, I beg him not to hang any more children between the ages of 18 and 21. If he thinks it right to do it, then go ahead and do it by all means, but if, in his heart, he believes that it is wrong, I ask him to show the same steadfast courage and integrity which he showed yesterday in resisting what must have been very strong pressure and a great temptation. He did not yield then, and I suggest to him that he ought to seize this occasion of further modifying the law which he took the initiative in modifying in 1958 in the light of the experience we have had since then.

Mr. Godfrey Lagden (Hornchurch)

The hon. Gentleman said how much he admired the 69 hon. Members who yesterday voted according to their consciences. Why should he assume that the same 69 hon. Members, or others on this side of the House who feel now as he feels over this question, will not have the courage to act in the same manner? Also, why does he think that he can impute to the Leader of the House a less conscientious attitude in the exercise of his vote than the 69 hon. Members who voted yesterday?

Mr. Silverman

As to the second point, I hope that I said the contrary. On the first point, I made no assumption. If I made the assumption which the hon. Gentleman imputes to me, I would not have wasted the time of the House in making the appeal I did. I hope that those who agree with me about this will show the same courage and intellectual integrity which was shown by the hon. Gentleman when he voted against his Whips yesterday. Of course, those who do not agree will be displaying the same courage. My appeal is directed not to those who do not agree with me. I know how they will vote. My appeal is directed to those hon. Members who agree with me, and I ask them to do what the 69 hon. Members did yesterday.

Now I come to the merits. We are not concerned with the general merits of the death penalty. We are to assume that the death penalty for some people and for some purposes remains, and we have to consider this new Clause against that background. What is it we are proposing to do? We must take into account the state of the law which it is proposed to apply to young people between the ages of 18 and 21, and it is not a satisfactory law. It is not a good law. I do not think that there is a solitary hon. Member who thinks that the state of the law with regard to murder as set out in the Homicide Act, 1958, and in the light of the experience that we have had, is satisfactory.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

May I make the position clear? Many hon. Members on this side of the House do not feel that it is a satisfactory position because the hon. Gentleman started the whole problem by making the position what it is at the moment, where it is neither one thing nor the other.

Mr. Silverman

I hope that hon. Members will not prolong the debate by making interventions which are not in issue and which are not challenged. All I said was that there was no hon. Member who regarded the present position as satisfactory, and the hon. Gentleman agrees with me. It was not necessary to intervene to say that he agreed. If he did not agree there would be some purpose in the intervention. The state of the law is entirely unsatisfactory, and no hon. Member thinks otherwise.

Let me give one example, and it applies to this age group with which we are concerned in the new Clause. Consider the recent case of Riley, who was not quite 21. I will not at this moment say anything which was disputed by the prosecution. As everyone knows, many things are disputed. In that case this young man, with no record of stealing or dishonesty, was in a police station, having spent most of the previous evening until the early hours of the morning on a "pub crawl".

Riley was charged with murder. There came a moment—how it came I will not discuss—when he indicated to the detective-sergeant in whose charge he was that he wanted to make a confession. He said, "Sergeant, what is capital murder?" The sergeant said, "It is killing a policeman or a prison warder." Riley asked him, "Does it include breaking in?" The answer was, "It might." There was one pertinent thing that the officer knew, namely, that it included killing in the course of theft, but he did not tell Riley that, and when asked subsequently, in cross-examination, "Why did not you tell him that?" he answered, "I told him what I thought it was fit for him to know."

4.30 p.m.

Riley was 20 years old. Believing, in his innocence, that the officer had given him all the relevant information, he proceeded to make a statement, and he no doubt made that statement trying to make out the best case he could for himself. No one can blame him for that, whatever he had done. Trying to make the best case he could, he said, "I only wanted some money." He thought that that was an excuse. He was saying, "I had no malicious intention to kill. I did not mean to do any serious harm, or any serious damage. I only wanted some money. That is my excuse." He did not know, and the police officer did not tell him, that that was fatal.

If he had said, "I went into that house full of hate. I went in determined to kill somebody. I went in determined to find this old woman and rape and kill her in order to satisfy my grudge against society. I did not want any money; I wanted to kill", it would not have been a capital crime, and he would be alive today. That is the effect of the Homicide Act. Is there any sense in it?

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)


Mr. Silverman

In the case of this young man, under 21 years of age, would it not have been better to say, "The death penalty shall not apply to you"? When we consider the age at which a penalty of this kind shall be inflicted we must consider the state of the law, the kind of penalty we are inflicting, and the kind of reason for which it is being inflicted. While the law is as unsatisfactory as it now is, it seems to me that we have an extremely good reason for keeping down the age limit.

Mr. G. Wilson

Is not the example which the hon. Member has given a vindication of the present state of the law, in that, on his own statement, if this man had thought there was a death penalty he would have been deterred? I agree that there is no evidence that a man who is so crazy that he wants to kill would be deterred by knowing that there was a death penalty.

Mr. Silverman

If the hon. Member is of the opinion that it is not right to take the life of a man who kills on purpose and without any kind of motive or excuse, but that it is right to take the life of somebody who had no such intention, and who killed, to some extent, by accident, without intending to do so at all, he is entitled to his opinion—but I should imagine that he is alone in it.

Mr. Gower

Is it not much more likely that a man's entry would result in killing if he went in to steal? Is it not less likely that a person would go in having decided just to kill?

Mr. Silverman

I do not want to go into all these abstruse psychological arguments. If the hon. Member gets any satisfaction out of them he must get as much as he can, but for me our execution of Riley, who did not intend to kill, and our saying that we would not have executed him if he had intended to kill, is a monstrosity, and I find it difficult to believe that anyone can come to any other conclusion.

It is granted that there must be some age limit, however arbitrary, below which we should not inflict this penalty. The present law says that that age limit shall be 18. Under the Clause it would be 21. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that to keep the age of 18 as the minimum age for the death penalty is inconsistent with the whole scheme of his Bill. Let us consider Clause 4. The main claim to be made for the Bill—and it is a sound claim—and the main improvement it makes in our present penal code, is its removal for a further time of the danger of the penalty of imprisonment for certain offences.

The Home Secretary thinks—and he is right to think—that that is a good thing to do when we are considering whether a man should go to gaol or to a detention centre. In considering whether his offences are such that he should go to prison, or are such that we should take some further opportunity of keeping him out of prison, what does Clause 4 say about the age limit which should be chosen? It says: In any case where a court has power, or would have power but for the statutory restrictions upon the imprisonment of young offenders, to pass sentence of imprisonment on an offender under twenty-one but not less than fourteen years of age, the court may, subject to the provisions of this section, order him to be detained in a detention centre. It provides that between the ages of 14 and 21 the court may have this power. How can we reconcile the choice of a limit of 21 as the age below which imprisonment ought not to be imposed, unless there are special circumstances, with the retention of the gallows and the hangman at the age of 18?

A person cannot vote at the age of 18. He cannot take any share whatever in framing the law; he cannot exercise any influence upon, or make any choice about, the laws to which he is subject until he has reached the age of 21. But the final penalty—the irrevocable penalty—is exacted from him three years before that. Can that be right? If, at the age of 18, 19, 20, or 20 years, 11 months and 29 days, a person contracts a debt in respect of a motor car, or a motor cycle, or a packet of cigarettes—none of them a necessity—he cannot be made to pay. If he is sued in a county court for a debt—it may be as little as 5s., or as much as £500, or any other figure—he is not liable; the court regards him as an infant, and will not give the creditor his money or give judgment against the debtor, because he is too young to be responsible.

But if he kills somebody, perhaps without meaning to, in the present state of the law—which makes the question whether or not the death penalty is exacted a personal decision of the Home Secretary, uncontrolled, and without appeal—he is liable to die. Does the House think that that is right? When we had conscription, a man was taken into the Army and made liable, and one of the arguments used for raising the age for conscription to 21 was the argument that I am using now. I agree that it was rejected, but that is the only exception, and in all those other respects the law holds—and it is a matter of common law—that one cannot be liable for one's debts until one is 21. But one is liable to hang. It cannot be right. It is not rational; it is not just; it cannot really be supported.

Why do we cling so obstinately to it? This is the death penalty that we are talking about, and we cannot change it once we have executed it. One of the great arguments against the death penalty is that if it should happen that we make a mistake we can do nothing to put it right, and we give the Establishment an interest in going on pretending, in the teeth of all the evidence, that a mistake has not been made.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

May I remind my hon. Friend that there was the case of William Habron, who, in 1876, when a lad of 18, was reprieved, having been convicted of the murder of a policeman, solely on account of his youth? Three or four years later his innocence was recognised.

Mr. Silverman

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. He was reprieved, but if he had not been, nothing could be done about it. When he was reprieved, or even if he had served the full sentence, after eight, nine, ten or eleven years, he would still be a young, redeemable human being when he came out, but there it is. That is one of the principal arguments against retaining it at all, but what is its application to this much narrower point? Is it not this?

If we can justify the death penalty at all—I think that we cannot, but if we can—then we can justify it only in cases where the life is so patently valueless and irredeemable that we are really doing no violence to the principle of the sanctity of human life, on which this argument ultimately depends. Is there any hon. Member in the House who is prepared to say that at the age of 18 somebody is irredeemable? I am not prepared to say that for any age. I do not know whether I am irredeemable or not, but I hesitate to give up hope. Can we say that at the age of 18 a life is so utterly vile, vicious and valueless that we can take it away without a qualm and without hesitation? I do not think that anybody listening to me in this Chamber now thinks that we can. Let us, therefore, at least take this opportunity of bringing the lower limit for the execution of the death penalty into line with the practice of the county courts in cases of trivial debt.

4.45 p.m.

One final point. I had a word or two to say last night about the generation with which we are now dealing in 1961. Twenty-one years ago it was 1940. The generation with which we are concerned in this new Clause, as I said last night, has been more betrayed, more damaged, more injured and more destroyed by generations for whom they were not responsible, and by conditions in the world which they did not create and could not alter, than any other generation in our history.

It is so easy to sit in judgment. Have we any right to do so? If they sat in judgment on us, would our generation be confident of acquittal? The conditions in which they grew up were not such as to conduce to a balanced, sane evaluation of civic responsibilities and the value of human life. We have not given young people these conditions any time in this century. Twenty million lives were lost in the First World War and 30 million in the Second World War, and the people who are defending the death penalty because they are horrified about the murder of a single individual are prepared—I do not say without qualms, but still are prepared—at the end of the day to use weapons which could destroy the whole of the human race. In a world so insecure, in a world so fraught with terror, in a world in which the outlook is so doubtful and obscure, let us beware how we sit in such irrevocable and unalterable judgment as to take the lives of young people at so early an age as this.

Let the House of Commons have courage. There are not many people whom we execute now—three, four or perhaps five a year—and if we take out of that number those who would otherwise be executed between the ages of 18 and 21, will we really be altering the pattern of social behaviour in this country? Will it suddenly become intolerable or unbearable? Will the risk increase so much? Let us rather say that at the age of 18 there is no life so valueless or so beyond redemption that we have the right to take it away.

The Clerk at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. SPEAKER from the remainder of this day's Sitting.

Whereupon Sir GORDON TOUCHE, The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, took the Chair as DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Walsall, South)

Not having been present in the Chamber last evening, I would deem it to be intensely discourteous if I were to speak more than briefly today, but there are a few things that I must say in addressing myself to this new Clause, which proposes the raising of the age limit for the death penalty from 18 to 21.

I was amongst the minority of hon. Members on this side of the House who supported the abolition of the death penalty and also voted for the Homicide Bill. In voting for that Bill, I took the view that we should see how it worked out, and that our duty as defenders of the public demanded that we should give to the Executive the five years they asked for to see how it worked out. Now, these five years are coming to an end, and we can see how it is working out.

I would say that, in respect of the new Clause we are now considering, the Homicide Bill was wrong. I would say quite definitely that experience of the last five years with regard to the young offender between the ages of 18 and 21, has shown that the infliction of the death penalty has not been justified. I must be very careful to watch my words. We have talked a great deal about deterrence. Deterrence simply cannot be measured. This argument has been used on both sides of the House, but if nothing is done the reason for not doing it cannot be ascertained.

I am going to advance the argument, which I firmly believe, that in a few exceptional cases, the death penalty is a positive attraction. My convinced view is that in the case of these unstable, ruthless, feckless men who have committed these shocking crimes which are an affront to our civilisation and which assault all our decent feelings, the existence of the death penalty at the end of the road is an added glamour. Where we get young people whose home life is perhaps non-existent, whose upbringing has been greatly neglected, there is a glamour which can be found in crime.

Instead of feeling, as they should, when committing these shocking, disgusting, filthy assaults and being looked upon as suffering from a foul disease which is the contempt of our society, they see themselves glamourised. They see from the attention they get in the Press, from the attention they get everywhere and the interested curiosity they evoke their exhibitionist feelings are satisfied. I cannot bring myself to think that if the death penalty for these offenders—I use the word advisedly—these disgusting, revolting, offenders were replaced by a long spell of incarceration that they would feel they were acting in a dashing, glorious, glamorous manner in murdering unoffending old gentlemen. I believe that it is the death penalty in those cases which has led to one or two recent crimes.

I do not belong to any campaign. I have not lent my name to the support of any cause on this matter, but I am clear in my mind that if we are interested in the defence of the public, as we are, the public interest will best be defended by letting these overgrown urchins be treated as the adolescents and irresponsible creatures that they are. Let society not give them the treatment of adults. They have done nothing to deserve it. I say this in no sympathy, but simply only in my feelings that the public's interest comes first. I believe that just as in war the man in the Services faces bullets bravely, he would face with much less valour the prospect of a long, lingering, miserable, and disgraceful incarceration. What is true of the best in war is true also of the worst in peace.

These young offenders to whom exhibitionism has become a part of their lives are encouraged in that by the glamour of a death penalty which awaits them when they are caught. They have the excitement of planning the crime. There is the police chase, the world of publicity turned on to them and the exhibitionism we have read about. If, instead of the death penalty being the final punishment, they were treated as hopeless, irresponsible children, who have to be kept away, kept out and kept in the corner, I believe that there would be far less inducement to young men to commit these crimes. They certainly would not be the admiration of nor fascinate their followers, male or female.

Some hon. Members have said that because the Clause does not go the whole way in abolishing the death penalty they will not support it. I am absolutely open-minded on that subject. I know where my responsibility and duty leads me and I believe that I am not alone among hon. Members on this side of the House when I say that with full consciousness of my responsibility to the public, to my electors and to those whose safety must be my prime concern, I shall vote for the Clause.

Mr. Weitzman

The arguments for and against abolition of capital punishment have been put again and again. I do not suppose for a moment that I can convince anyone by trying to repeat them. I desire only to deal with one point which I raised in Committee upstairs, when the matter was dealt with there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) touched upon it in the very powerful speech he made today. Earlier, I interrupted the hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) to ask him why the age of 18 was fixed. The answer he gave was that he supposed we had to take some age and that 18 was the age at which, apparently, it was recognised people were mature. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne pointed out, taking the age of 18 is in conflict with the whole scheme of the Bill. As he pointed out and as I pointed out earlier, Clause 4 deals with the age of 21. The whole idea of the Bill is to take the age of 21 and to recognise that those under that age ought to be dealt with in a special way.

If the hon. and learned Member is right, and if it is true that young people of 18 are mature and ought to be dealt with in the same way as adults, they ought to be sent to prison in the same way as adults. Yet the Home Secretary himself has recognised the distinction. It is not fallacious to say that the whole concept of our law recognises that distinction. It has been pointed out again and again that under the age of 21 persons are, in law, infants. I do not know why the age of 18 was fixed as the age below which persons should not hang. The definition of a young person is one below 17. Why not take the age of 17? Yet in some extraordinary way the age of 18 has been taken.

It has been pointed out that the Select Committee, as long ago as 1930, recommended that the death penalty should be abolished for persons under the age of 21. It did so on a wealth of evidence put before it. Medical evidence was produced before it that people under the age of 21 were immature and emotionally unstable. When that argument was put forward, the Attorney-General answered it by saying that if there is a case of a person who is unstable or immature the Home Secretary can exercise the prerogative. The point is that it is not simply one case, but there is a wealth of medical opinion that as a class persons under 21 are immature and emotionally unstable compared with adults. Therefore, they ought to be dealt with in a different way.

Clearly, immaturity and emotional instability are factors which count to a tremendous extent when we are considering the crime of murder. The hon. and learned Member for Epsom has considerable experience, as a number of us have, in dealing with cases of murder by persons under 21. The hon. and learned Member must know from experience, as many of us know, how very different persons under the age of 21 are in regard to the commission of this crime.

I am making only a short contribution to the debate, although I feel strongly about the matter and would have been ready to put forward and support the arguments in favour of the abolition of capital punishment for all. I want, however, to emphasise this point. By this Bill, the Home Secretary has brought forward a great Measure. It is one that will do a great deal of good. It recognises that fundamentally persons under the age of 21 should be dealt with in a different way.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Hale

When my hon. and learned Friend talks about persons being immature, may I remind him that Derek Bentley, who went to the scaffold at the age of 19, was discharged from the Armed Forces as a fourth-grade mental defective and suffered from epilepsy petit mal?

Mr. Weitzman

I am obliged.

I emphasise, finally, the point which I am making. I want to put it as strongly as I can. I recognise that the Bill is an important Measure, dealing with young persons under the age of 21. The Home Secretary himself has recognised that in the provision which is made in Clause 4, in particular, and in other Clauses. If it is right to enact that persons under 21 shall not be sent to prison and special conditions shall apply to them, surely it is right to accept the new Clause.

I urge the Home Secretary to recognise that here is an opportunity of putting into effect an important reform. It does not, unfortunately—because it cannot, to be in order—go the whole way in regard to the abolition of capital punishment, but it is an important step forward. Bearing in mind the criticism so rightly made of the provisions of the Homicide Act, and remembering that this new Clause will fit into the scheme of the Bill, I ask the Home Secretary to accept it and to go at least some way towards the achievement of complete abolition.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I undertook last night, in answer to requests, that we should not take a decision on this Clause at a late hour of the night because of the nature of the subject which we have to decide. I hope now that we shall be able to come to a decision, because we have had well over three hours' debate on this matter, including the time taken both last night and today, and a number of important speeches have been made. We should, I think, be ready to come to a decision. Then, we can proceed with the rest of the Bill.

I have followed the debate from start to finish. It was opened by the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) with a thoughtful speech which brought home to all of us what a serious subject this is. The hon. Member was followed by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who sent me a note to say that he is not able to be in the House today. The hon. and learned Member warned me that he would "gun" for me, but in the end I found his speech enjoyable, as, indeed, I found all the speeches yesterday, from all sides of the House, equally enjoyable.

However, the hon. and learned Member brought into his speech a great deal of deep sentiment. He quoted the early life of St. Augustine and pointed out that from a bad start he had become one of the greatest figures in all the history of civilisation and thought. Speeches of that sort add greatly to our debates. Taking, also, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), when he drew attention to the possible alternatives to the Clause, it can be said that we have had what may be described as a thoughtful and constructive debate.

The new Clause proposes to substitute the words "twenty-one years" for "eighteen years" in Section 9 (3) of the Homicide Act, 1957, which, in turn, amended Section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933. We are not, therefore, dealing with the whole question of capital punishment, but simply with the new Clause, which seeks to raise the age at which capital punishment should be a penalty under the Homicide Act. This has been brought out clearly by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson) and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson). My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom put very succinctly the reasons why he could not accept the Clause, and I should like to be brief myself.

It has been found that this was a natural subject for debate on Report owing to the fact that the decision in Committee was extremely close, the majority being only one vote. I remind the House that this was also a subject which was debated at great length by the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, whose members were themselves divided and also agreed their decision by a majority of only one.

Mr. S. Silverman

The other way.

Mr. Butler

Yes, the other way. The argument of the Royal Commission is set out in paragraphs 188 onwards of its Report. It could not, therefore, by any stretch of the imagination be described as an easy matter and I will try and give the House shortly the reasons why the Government cannot accept the Clause.

The first reason is that the Government remain of the opinion that it is too soon to draw conclusions about the result of the Homicide Act, 1957. It has been said in the debate, and it can be repeated, that that Act is easy to criticise. It defines certain categories of murder and leaves out others. It was the result of intense pulling of consciences and straining of thought in this House a few years ago under my predecessor, who was then Home Secretary. It certainly imposes an extremely heavy burden on anyone who has to administer it. I should like to make that quite clear, because we are not discussing that major issue today. It was, however, a major issue before the House.

Quite apart from the fact that the Government have decided and announced that they want sufficient time in which to see the operation of the Homicide Act, I doubt whether opinion has crystalised sufficiently yet in the Commons to know how Parliament would vote in the event of a decision being taken as to whether we should reimpose all types of murder as being capitally punishable, or whether we should abolish the death penalty. Certainly, some of the speeches made in the debate today with great sincerity by my hon. Friends and others lead me to doubt whether anybody can foresee what would happen.

Mr. S. Silverman

When the Home Secretary says that he does not know what the result would be if the House had to consider the question again, does he mean considering it again with the Whips on or with the Whips off? If he means with the Whips off, I would welcome the opportunity of trying.

Mr. Butler

I am not giving a decision on that because, there is no Government policy in this respect at the moment, I having stated clearly that the Government's policy is to give the Act time to work out. The original suggestion was a five-year period. I do not think that any Government worthy of its name which did not give a lead on this matter next time would be worthy of consideration. It would be necessary in the general state of concern and, in some cases, indecision, to give a lead of what we thought.

The general amendment of the Act does not come into question. What comes into question is whether we should amend it in this respect. I do not like to use the word "piecemeal", which gives the impression that the new Clause is light-hearted, which it certainly is not, but what comes into question is whether to amend the Act in part in relation to the age. I do not believe that all abolitionists support this amendment.

It so happens that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) has said that he supports it, but my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) said that in this matter he would prefer to abstain. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Sir G. Benson), who took and takes a strong view on abolition generally, did not seem very pleased that a partial amendment only should be brought forward by his party on this occasion. There is, therefore, a general view—

Sir George Benson (Chesterfield)

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that I am satisfied even with the age of 21. I was merely pointing out that that was all that could be done under the Bill.

Mr. Butler

I certainly followed the arguments of the hon. Member, who contributes so much to our discussions in these matters. I was pointing out that he did not find it very satisfactory to try to deal with the question of the Homicide Act in a partial manner, even though I quite agree that under the Bill anything else would be out of order and this is as far as we can go under the Bill.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said in Committee—and he was not answered in Committee; if there is an answer, I should be glad to hear it—I doubt whether the supporters of the new Clause have the strong support of the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment in this partial move that they are making. It is a partial move.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I should not like the right hon. Gentleman to think that I moved the Clause in any way as a representative of an organisation. I did it as an individual Member of the House, expressing my views on the matter. As for the distinction the right hon. Gentleman drew between altering the age and total abolition, the Royal Commission was allowed to consider the question of altering the age, but was not allowed to consider the question of total abolition. The Royal Commission expressed its view by a majority in favour of altering the age. It therefore seems reasonable that the House should take that into consideration rather than the general issue.

Mr. Butler

I accept that, but it does not counter anything I was saying. I was saying that the Government do not think it is a suitable moment to make a partial amendment of the 1957 Act.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the Home Secretary allow me to answer, at least partially—I cannot answer in full—a question he just asked? I am a member of the National Executive of the Campaign for the Abolition of Capital Punishment. I do not know that it has ever expressly considered this question, but I certainly have no reason whatever to think that it would not welcome any amelioration of the death penalty, any abolition of part of it, until the day comes when it can be totally abolished.

Mr. Butler

I made my observations with a view to trying to find out. Therefore, I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. It was raised by the Attorney-General in Committee. He asked whether anybody could give him an answer. As I have read all the debates in Committee with great assiduity, as I am sure that the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) would like to hear, I wanted to have an answer to the question.

That is our first reason as a Government for resisting the new Clause. Our second reason is the same as that which had much influence on the Report of the Royal Commission, namely, the state of crime. While I do not want to go into great detail after our debates yesterday, I must remind the House of the state of crime at present. The number of persons aged between 17 and 21 found guilty of crimes of violence against the person has continued to increase, from 1,635 in 1957, to 2,084 in 1958 and to 2,366 in 1959, which is the latest year for which we have figures.

The number of cases of robbery, which in most cases involved some form of violence, has also increased. In 1959, the number of persons in this age group convicted of this offence was about one-quarter of the total number convicted. It is reasonable to assume that the same age group was responsible for a similar proportion of the offences not cleared up.

It therefore appears to the Government that this is not a situation in which we can make a change, especially a partial change. This was the same attitude which was adopted by some members of the Royal Commission when they said in 1953 that the great increase in violent crime committed by persons aged between 17 and 21 did not at that time appear to have passed its peak, and that we regard as the situation today.

As I said yesterday, some hon. Members may not attach any importance to statistics, but I must just give these figures, which were given in Committee, namely, that in 1951 seven murders were committed by persons of the ages of 18, 19 and 20. In 1955 and 1956 that number fell to five. It rose to nine in 1957, and to 15 in 1958, and in 1960 there were still 10 cases. That illustrates the second reason why the Government do not feel that a move in the direction of the new Clause is desirable at present.

I come now to the main issue as to whether young people below 21 should hang. I acknowledge that we have had many moving speeches on this issue. We do not wish to maintain the age of 18 for any sadistic or brutal reasons. The Royal Commission, and hon. Members in this debate, have spent some time in going into the question of the maturity or immaturity of people between the ages of 18 and 21. Those who favoured and now favour raising the age below which the death penalty cannot be imposed to 21 rely on the argument that below 21 young people's characters are not yet formed and the chances of changes of character are better amongst them than among older offenders.

I do not think that it can be said from studying the crimes which I, unfortunately, have to study that young people under 21 are necessarily immature. Some of them are the ringleaders in many of the incidents which come to our notice. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford that if we raise the age to 21 it may give the wrong impression to some young people of the seriousness and nature of the offence of capital murder.

We all find it absolutely repugnant to condemn a young man to death, but I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the prerogative of mercy remains. In England, of the four persons under the age of 21 who have been convicted of capital murder since the Homicide Act came into operation two have been reprieved. The hon. Member for Widnes said that these are very small numbers. He used that as an argument for us to support the Clause. My own feeling is that we should be thankful that the numbers are so small, but I do not think that nevertheless we should be justified in accepting the Clause as it stands.

Mr. Weitzman

Will the Home Secretary enlighten me about something which puzzles me greatly? Why is it not right to send young persons under 21 to prison if it is right to hang them?

Mr. Butler

The hon. and learned Member and his hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) drew attention to the merits of this Measure, particularly in regard to Clause 4. I am very grateful to have any of the merits of the Bill pointed out. They are distinct merits. It is a good thing not to send children to prison, but in the present state of society and of crime it would be a mistake to accept the Clause and alter the age below which the death penalty cannot be imposed.

I shall not go further into the matter, because I do not think that I can go into further arguments more than I have done. I will now sum up.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

The Home Secretary referred to the exercise of the Royal Prerogative and said that a reprieve had been granted in two cases. Will he say whether in those two cases the fact that the accused were under 21 influenced his judgment at all, and if so, why?

Mr. Butler

The hon. Member raised this question in his speech yesterday, and I well remember it. I nodded assent when he asked me, across the Floor, if youth had any effect upon a Home Secretary in exercising the Royal Prerogative. Anyone who has held my office knows that it is obviously one of the considerations which one takes into account. Age has a marked effect. I cannot give particulars of particular cases, but the answer to the hon. Gentleman, in general, is in the affirmative.

I said that I would not speak for long, because our reasons are simple, but none the less sincere. The Government take the view that it is not the time to reform or amend the 1957 Act. Therefore, it is not the time for this partial amendment by the Clause to be made. It is not wise to do that at present in view of the state of crime. It is not wise to raise the age to 21 in present circumstances and perhaps give young people the idea that capital murder is not a heinous and terrible crime. These are our reasons, and by these reasons we stand.

Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)

This has been a really first class debate with some excellent speeches from both sides of the House. Just as I said yesterday that I was speaking solely for myself, so again on this issue I am speaking for myself, since there will be a free vote on this side of the House. I am very grateful indeed to those hon. Members on both sides, particularly hon. Members opposite, for the support they have given to the Clause. Life and death is not a matter of party consideration, and I know full well that hon. Members opposite who feel very strongly about this will be with us on the Cause, just as some of them were in Committee.

Yesterday I congratulated the Home Secretary on the speech he made on corporal punishment. I cannot congratulate him on the speech he has made on this issue. He was much more convincing yesterday than he was today, which leads me to believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is right in saying that if the right hon. Gentleman were a back bencher today he would perhaps come with us into the Division Lobby on the Clause.

The main reason why the right hon. Gentleman resisted the Clause was that in his view it is too soon to draw conclusions about the Homicide Act, 1957. This Clause has nothing whatever to do with the working of the Homicide Act of 1957. That Measure made no difference at all to the minimum age at which people could be hanged. In fact, the last change made in that respect was in 1908, when the age was raised from 16 to 18. It is true to say, however, that before that time—from 1887 onwards—nobody under 18 years of age had been hanged. Although the law was that a boy or girl of 16 or 17 could be hanged, they were all reprieved. Therefore, this Clause has nothing to do with the 1957 Act; it is concerned solely with the minimum age at which young people can be sent to the gallows.

The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) said yesterday evening that although he was an abolitionist—in favour of the total abolition of the death penalty—he could not vote for this Clause; but he added that he would not vote against it because it went only part of the way. I think that he misunderstood the whole purpose of this Criminal Justice Bill.

This Bill is concerned with the treatment of the young offender; that is, with the treatment of young people under the age of 21. We must consider all methods of treatment. We are considering borstal and detention centres; yesterday we considered whether or not young people under 21 should be subject to corporal punishment. In dealing with this very important Bill, and in deciding the penalties to be inflicted on those under 21, we must consider whether or not hanging shall still be one of those penalties. We would be neglecting our duty very much if we did not consider this extremely important matter in connection with this Measure.

Like the hon. Member for Gravesend, I am in favour of the total abolition of the death penalty, but even with the continuation of the death sentence as it is at present, I believe that there is a very strong case for raising the age from 18 to 21. I would have thought that even some of those hon. Members who are in favour of the operation of the death penalty would feel that in this one respect they could vote for this Clause in order to raise the age from 18 to 21.

Much has been said about whether or not people of this age are responsible, but anybody with teenage children knows that among a great many teenage people today there is an instability. They are impressionable, they lack judgment, and, as has been pointed out, because of this 21 is regarded as the age when boys and girls come of age. They cannot vote until they are 21. They cannot marry without their parents' consent until they are 21. They cannot make a will or be declared bankrupt, and so on.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), in a rather extraordinary speech yesterday evening, said that if young people under 21 were old enough to be conscripted into the Army they were old enough to hang. That is what I understood him to say. Speaking as one who has supported conscription in time of need, I would have thought that the fact that we conscript teenagers into the Army and prepare them to fight was a reason for accepting the new Clause.

Some people have said that young people today mature earlier. If we are referring to physical maturity, I would agree. Young people today do mature earlier physically, but, perhaps, not mentally. I believe that this earlier physical maturity sometimes produces more emotional upheaval in these teenagers.

The hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) argued earlier this afternoon that because a person committing this crime knew what was right and what was wrong that person should be subjected to the death penalty. I am sure he is aware that in this country the age of criminal responsibility is not 18 but 8. That is the age, unfortunately, at which we adjudge people to have some kind of criminal responsibility—

Mr. Rawlinson

What I said, and I had hoped that I made myself perfectly clear, was that if a person aged 18 managed to buy a pistol, managed to buy ammunition for it, managed to load it, to put it in his pocket and later to kill someone, it could be said that he knew perfectly well what he was doing, and knew that what he was doing was not right.

Miss Bacon

That is just what I was saying; that, unfortunately—but it is the law—we adjudge the age of criminal responsibility as being 8 years and not 18 years but, surely, we would not want to go back to the time when we could hang them from the age of 8 onwards.

As long ago as 1930 the Select Committee on Capital Punishment recommended, with a substantial majority, that the age at which a person could be hanged should be raised to 21. On that occasion, the Home Office gave evidence in favour of raising the age from 18 to 21. I know that it is very difficult to get any arbitrary division here. Whatever age we fix, we shall have some below it who are, perhaps, more mature than some who are over that age, but the whole idea at the back of the Bill is that there should be a different approach to the treatment of young people under 21 years of age. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out during the Home Secretary's speech, one of the ideas at the back of the Bill is that we should keep young people under 21 out of prison. This Bill recognises that the approach to those under 21 should be different from that to those above.

As I have said, comparatively recently the age at which a person can be hanged was raised from 16 to 18. One of the arguments put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General during the Committee stage—in fact, I think the only argument he put forward on the matter—was that if we lowered the age from 21 to 18 the gun would be carried by the person who was under 18 years of age. That, of course, can be argued whatever the age may be. Whether we fix the age at 16, 18, 21 or 25, that argument remains.

Whenever a hanging takes place, whether it is the hanging of someone over 21 or under 21, we all feel uncomfortable and uneasy. That is particularly so when the person concerned is under 21 years of age. It is significant that although many people in general say that they are in favour of the death penalty, those very same people will rush to sign petitions, particularly where a person under 21 is involved and when a reprieve is being sought.

Yesterday, we considered birching and caning. I give those hon. Members who voted for that form of punishment credit for honestly believing that by birching and caning they could reform the criminal. Some of them honestly believed that.

5.30 p.m.

But surely this matter is altogether different. I am sure that some of those who yesterday voted in favour of birching and caning would not wish to wipe these youngsters off the face of the earth. If that is all that we can do with teenagers, it is an admission of failure. We are saying, in effect, that we think that the measures envisaged in the Bill will fail and that all other methods will be inadequate.

I realise that there are many people who do not like the death penalty but feel that we must have it as a deterrent. I therefore must spend one or two minutes on the deterrent effect of the death penalty. I should have hesitated for a long time before tabling this new Clause if I had thought that the death penalty was a deterrent, particularly to youngsters of this age. As I understood the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson), he said that most young people who commit murders think that they will not be found out. In other words, he did not think that the death penalty was a deterrent. I think he is quite right. I do not believe that they think about the consequences. Young thugs under 21 years do not contemplate murder and they are not deterred either by hanging or the possibility of life imprisonment. These are usually senseless and impetuous murders. These people are merely acting big. They get a gun, go out and do not think what they are doing.

Other countries have abolished the death penalty. Post-1957 figures show that the number of murders in this country has fallen. Perhaps one of the best comparisons is between states in America and Australia. As between similar states in America, one has abolished the death penalty and the other has not. Similarly, in Australia. As between New South Wales and Queensland, one of them has abolished the death penalty and the other has not. The amazing thing is that the crime wave in both these States was exactly the same. It was a wave of crime rather than the fact that the death penalty was abolished.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) asked us on this side, as he asked in Committee, what was our alternative. If we abolished the death penalty for people under 21 years, what was our alternative? Did we propose to substitute a life sentence which was in fact a life sentence, or what? We are not creating a new problem. This is a problem which already exists with those murderers who are found guilty of non-capital murder. I am sure that no one will say that some of these murders are less heinous than some of those called capital murders. It is a problem which exists with those under 21 who are found guilty of a capital murder but are reprieved. As my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) said last night, this merely adds to a problem which already exists.

It is said that eventually this Clause might be accepted, but that we should leave the matter for the time being and wait. People say, "Leave the age at 21 and leave a reserve power of reprieve in the hands of the Home Secretary." The Royal Commission stated that special consideration was always given to youth in considering reprieves. I believe that it is very unfair on any Home Secretary to leave this dreadful power in his hands. It is a power which no one should be asked to bear. If we believe that 18 is too young an age at which to hang a person and that the age should be 21, we should say so quite clearly in this House and not say, "We think that people under 21 should not be hanged, but let us leave it to the Home Secretary."

My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne referred to the matter of mistakes. I think that a few years ago most people in this country would have said that it was impossible in

England for an innocent man to go to the gallows. Can anyone really say that today? At any age, this is a ghastly matter, but when a young life is concerned it is even worse.

If we continue to hang young people, what will we have done? I suggest that we shall have done nothing at all and that it is no solution to the present crime wave. We shall have created a world of false values. We are all in some way responsible and we cannot get rid of that responsibility merely by saying, "Hang them". We do not achieve anything by hanging young people and we shall not have solved the great problem that there is to solve.

I therefore hope that the new Clause will be accepted. I am certain that if it is we will feel that we have done something worth while and that we have taken a step in the right direction. I hope that, not only those in favour of abolition, but some of those who feel that a death penalty is necessary, will say that it is much too final for people under 21 years. I hope that many hon. Members will follow us into the Lobby in favour of our proposal.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 144, Noes 229.

Division No. 132.] AYES [5.38 p.m.
Ainsley, William Fernyhough, E. Hynd, H. (Accrington)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Fletcher, Eric Hynd, John (Attercliffe)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Foot, Dingle (Ipswich) Janner, Sir Barnett
Awbery, Stan Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas
Bacon, Miss Alice Forman, J. C. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)
Benson, Sir George Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
Blackburn, F. Galtskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)
Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan) George, Lady MeganLloyd(Crmrthn) Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)
Bowles, Frank Ginsburg, David Kelley, Richard
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Cordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Key, Ht. Hon. C. W.
Brockway, A. Fenner Gourlay, Harry Lawson, George
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Greenwood, Anthony Ledger, Ron
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Grey, Charles Lee, Frederick (Newton)
Callaghan, James Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)
Chetwynd, George Griffiths, W. (Exchange) Lipton, Marcus
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Grimond, J. Loughlin, Charles
Crosland, Anthony Gunter, Ray Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Crossman, R. H. S. Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W) MacColl, James
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Coine Valley) McInnes, James
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Hamilton, William (West Fife) McLeavy, Frank
Davies, Harold, (Leek) Hart, Mrs. Judith MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Hayman, F. H. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Deer, George Healey, Denis Manuel, A. C.
Delargy, Hugh Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur(RwlyRegls) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.
Dempsey, James Herbison, Miss Margaret Marsh, Richard
Diamond, John Hill, J. (Midlothian) Millan, Bruce
Dodds, Norman Holman, Percy Mitchison, G. R.
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Holt, Arthur Moyle, Arthur
Edelman, Maurice Houghton, Douglas Mulley, Frederick
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Howell, Charles A. Oliver, G. H.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Oram, A. E.
Edwards, Walter (Stepney) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Oswald, Thomas
Evans, Albert Hunter, A. E. Owen, Will
Paget, H. T. Ross, William Wade, Donald
Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Short, Edward Wainwright, Edwin
Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Silverman, Julius (Aston) Warbey, William
Plummer, Sir Leslie Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Weitzman, David
Popplewell, Ernest Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Prentice, R. E. Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield) Whitlock, William
Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Small, William Wilkins, W. A.
Proctor, W. T. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Willey, Frederick
Pursey, Cmdr. Harry Sorensen, R. W. Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Randall, Harry Spriggs, Leslie Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Rankin, John Steele, Thomas Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Redhead, E. C. Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Woof, Robert
Reid, William Swingier, Stephen Zilliacus, K.
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Sylvester, George
Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Taylor, John (West Lothian) Mr. Victor Yates and Mr. Fitch.
Agnew, Sir Peter Finlay, Graeme McMaster, Stanley R.
Allason, James Fisher, Nigel Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Arbuthnot, John Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Maginnis, John E.
Ashton, Sir Hubert Forrest, George Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Barber, Anthony Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone) Markham, Major Sir Frank
Barlow, Sir John Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest
Batsford, Brian Freeth, Denzil Marten, Neil
Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate) Gammans, Lady Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)
Bell, Ronald Gibson-Watt, David Mawby, Ray
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Glover, sir Douglas Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm) Goodhart, Philip Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Bevlns, Rt. Hon. Reginald (Toxteth) Goodhew, Victor Mills, Stratton
Bidgood, John C. Gough, Frederick Montgomery, Fergus
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. Moody, A. S.
Bishop, F. P. Green, Alan Moore, Sir Thomas (Ayr)
Black, Sir Cyril Gresham Cooke, R. More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Bossom, Clive Grimston, Sir Robert Morrison, John
Bourne-Arton, A Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Nabarro, Gerald
Box, Donald Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Neave, Airey
Boyle, Sir Edward Harris, Reader (Heston) Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Braine, Bernard Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Noble, Michael
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col.Sir Walter Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Oakshott, Sir Hendrie
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Hastings, Stephen Osborn, John (Hallam)
Browne, Percy (Torrington) Hay, John Osborne, Cyril (Louth)
Bryan, Paul Henderson, John (Cathcart) Page, John (Harrow, West)
Buck, Antony Hiley, Joseph Page, Graham (Crosby)
Bullard, Denys Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)
Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Partridge, E.
Burden, F. A. Hirst, Geoffrey Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Hobson, John Peel, John
Butler, Rt.Hn.R.A. (Saffron Walden) Hocking, Philip N. Peyton, John
Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.) Holland, Philip Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Carr, Compton (Barons Court) Hollingworth, John Pike, Miss Mervyn
Cary, Sir Robert Hopkins, Alan Pitt, Miss Edith
Channon, H. P. G. Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia Pott, Percivall
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.) Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives) Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Howard, John (Southampton, Test) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Cleaver, Leonard Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John Prior, J. M. L.
Cole, Norman Hughes-Young, Michael Prior-Palmer, Brig, Sir Otho
Cooke, Robert Hulbert, Sir Norman Proudfoot, Wilfred
Cooper, A. E. Hutchison, Michael Clark Pym, Francis
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Iremonger, T. L. Ramsden, James
Corfield, F. V. Jackson, John Rawlinson, Peter
Costain, A. P. James, David Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Coulson, J. M. Jennings, J. C. Rees, Hugh
Craddock, Sir Beresford Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Cunningham, Knox Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Renton, David
Curran, Charles Kaberry, Sir Donald Ridley, Hon. Nicholas
Currie, G. B. H. Kerans, Cdr. J. S. Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Dalkeith, Earl of Kerby, Capt. Henry Roots, William
Dance, James Kerr, Sir Hamilton Russell, Ronald
Deedes, W. F. Kershaw, Anthony Scott-Hopkins, James
de Ferranti, Basil Lagden, Godfrey Shaw, M.
Digby, Simon Wingfield Leburn, Gilmour Shepherd, William
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Skeet, T. H. H.
Drayson, G. B. Lindsay, Martin Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'rd & Chiswick)
du Cann, Edward Linstead, Sir Hugh Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Duncan, Sir James Litchfield, Capt. John Spearman, Sir Alexander
Duthie, Sir William Longden, Gilbert Speir, Rupert
Eden, John Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby Stevens, Geoffrey
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Elliott, R. W. (Nwcstle-upon-Tyne, N.) McAdden, Stephen Stodart, J. A.
Farey-Jones, F. W. MacArthur, Ian Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Farr, John Maclean, SirFitzroy(Bute&N. Ayrs.) Storey, Sir Samuel
Fell, Anthony Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Studholme, Sir Henry
Sumner, Donald (Orpington) Vane, W. M. F. Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Talbot, John E. Vaughan-Morgan, Sir John Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.) Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis Wise, A. R.
Temple, John M. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.) Woodhouse, C. M.
Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret Walder, David Woodnutt, Mark
Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Walker, Peter Woollam, John
Thomas, Peter (Conway) Ward, Dame Irene Worsley, Marcus
Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.) Watte, James
Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin Webster, David TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Tilney, John (Wavertree) Wells, John (Maidstone) Mr. Chichester-Clark and
Turner, Colin Wells, Percy (Faversham) Mr. Gordon Campbell.
van Straubenzee, W. R. Whitelaw, William