HC Deb 16 February 1961 vol 634 cc1730-2
1. Commander Kerans

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in view of the increased number of murders in recent weeks, he will consider the revision of the Homicide Act, 1957.

9. Mr. Gresham Cooke

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will consider amending the Homicide Act, so as to include the penalty of capital punishment for those committing murder while committing criminal sexual acts.

27. Sir T. Moore

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware of the need for providing for more effective punishment for those who murder with rape; and whether he will now consider immediate legislation to amend the Homicide Act so as to include killing by rape within the category of capital murder.

65. Mr. Grimond

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will institute an inquiry into the operation of the Homicide Act.

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

I am not convinced that any amendment of the Homicide Act would be appropriate at present.

Commander Kerans

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there are many people in this country who are living alone with families who are living in fear of what might happen in the future? Is he also aware that there are many people who cannot leave their children unescorted after dark and that this fear is a very real and growing fear throughout the country? Only yesterday I was speaking to a British subject from Italy—[HON. MEMBERS:" Speech."]—who told me that in many cases people are restrained from coming to this country because of the crime in London.

Mr. Butler

I am aware of the natural anxiety about the state of crime. I am also aware that, taking statistics between set years, there was not a great increase in the murder rate between the years 1957 to 1960, for example, and 1953 to 1955. I am also aware that it is the duty of the Government to take every action possible, with the aid of a strong police and with the aid of the courts, to restore law and order where it is absent and to maintain it in any case. That I regard as my primary duty and in so far as it lies in my power will carry it out.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that between 11th December, when a little girl was brutally murdered near my constituency, and the end of January no less than seventeen women and girls have been murdered, the majority of whom were subject to sexual attacks? This has caused tremendous concern to mothers, who are afraid to send their children out at night. There is very strong feeling that the Homicide Act should be now amended to restore the deterrent of capital punishment for sexual attacks.

Mr. Butler

Yes, I am very conscious of the deep anxiety in relation to sexual crime. I cannot accept the exact figures of my hon. Friend, only for the reason that I am having the whole of these matters carefully analysed by my research unit. When I am in a position to give the figures exactly, I will do so. Nevertheless, we must not rely on figures. We must appreciate that there is great anxiety. The only thing I am not convinced of is the method suggested by my hon. Friend to cure this disagreeable state of affairs.

Sir T. Moore

Whilst appreciating the sympathetic attitude of my right hon. Friend may I ask him if he recalls a statement he made at the Conservative Party Conference at Scarborough last year? He said that the primary duty of the Government was to protect the people, or words to that effect. Is he aware of the growing anger which is developing amongst the people at the failure of our Conservative Government to carry out that function?

Mr. Butler

No, I do not accept the latter part of my hon. Friend's statement. I accept that I made the statement to which he refers. The Government have taken exceptional steps to reinforce the forces of law and order, with the advice, among other things, of the Royal Commission. I am hopeful that we are beginning so to reinforce them that we shall get on top of the crime wave. I should like to feel that I have the support of the House as a whole in the undoubted efforts we all have to make together.

Mr. Fletcher

There is undoubted dissatisfaction throughout the country about the operation of the Homicide Act, both on the part of those who believe in capital punishment and on the part of those who believe in its abolition. How long does the Home Secretary think that this unsatisfactory state of affairs ought to continue before the Act is revised?

Mr. Butler

In my Answer, I used the expression "at present". I think that an art of statesmanship is to give an opportunity to see how something is working out. The few years in which the Act has been in operation have not yet given us quite a full enough idea. The second point emerges from the hon. Gentleman's statement. There are deep divisions of opinion in the House, which are not governed by party considerations, about what should be done about the Homicide Act. I am aware of most of these divisions, and I only hope that they are fully understood in the country, where they are largely shared.