HC Deb 20 April 1961 vol 638 cc1356-7
1. Mr. F. Harris

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will arrange for a national referendum to ascertain public opinion regarding a revision of the Homicide Act, 1957, to permit the full restoration of capital punishment for murder.

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

No, Sir. The referendum is not part of our constitutional practice.

Mr. Harris

As the Homicide Act, 1957, was a compromise and does not seem to satisfy any opinion, and as Parliament does not seem to wish to resolve this unsatisfactory state of affairs, would it not be wise to test public opinion and ascertain what I consider to be the view of the majority, namely, that they require the full restoration of capital punishment as a deterrent?

Mr. Butler

I would rather the House of Commons expressed its opinion than that we referred the matter to a referendum. I do not wish to counter any of my hon. Friend's ideas or anything of that sort at this stage. All I am sticking to is the constitutional position, on which I would prefer the House of Commons to pronounce.

Mr. S. Silverman

I respectfully agree with the Home Secretary's reply on that part of the Question which asks for a national referendum. Nevertheless, does he not agree that it is an extremely odd position that an Act of Parliament, which has been in operation for three or four years now and is defended by him as being in order to satisfy public opinion, should result in a situation in which, so far from public opinion being satisfied, it has the support of nobody?

Mr. Butler

It must have the support of some of those who voted to bring it into force, but that is a matter of opinion. It was, as my hon. Friend said, in some respects a compromise. I referred to this aspect of it in speaking on the Criminal Justice Bill. I do not think that I can usefully add to what I said then. On this question, which is a matter of constitutional procedure, I advise my hon. Friend to adhere to the processes of Parliament.

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