HC Deb 24 March 1965 vol 709 cc489-537
Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, after "murder" to insert: except a person previously convicted of murder who shall murder again". May I first welcome the opportunity to put forward the arguments which we were not able to put forward upstairs in Committee. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) succeeded in his Motion to bring the Bill back to the Floor of the House. I welcome this opportunity to put forward Amendments in the hope of being able to persuade right hon. and hon. Members by the force of the argument and by the persuasiveness for which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) asked in the proceedings in Committee.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

My hon. Friend has just said that he hopes to be able to persuade hon. Members. May I point out that the Government have called this meeting of the House to discuss the Bill on a Wednesday morning, instead of during their own time, when hardly any Ministers representing the Government are on the Front Bench opposite? I recognise, of course, that the hon. Lady the Minister of State, Home Office, is present as well as her right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. The Prime Minister, however, is not here and there are no Ministers—

The Chairman

Order. I hope that we will not have frivolous interruptions.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I am sure that the points made by my hon. Friend will be noted and understood by hon. Members.

I should make plain to start with my reasons for moving the Amendment and for putting my name to various other Amendments. First, I do not believe that the Bill is in the true interest of maintaining law and order. This is obvious from the fact that I was one of those who opposed the Bill on Second Reading. I felt it right to make my position clear so that there is no misunderstanding about it. Nevertheless, the House gave the Bill a Second Reading. Our task, therefore, is to try to minimise the damage that the Bill will do and to improve it as far as one is able, accepting the principle which has been established by the House on Second Reading.

An extraordinary situation has arisen. Judging from my experience in the House, it is unique. I refer to the fact that there has been a Committee stage which has gone over the Amendments which are now being discussed. They have been dealt with in complete detail. Indeed, there was three-and-a-half hours of discussion on identical Amendments. It was rather abruptly truncated upstairs by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) when some of my right hon. and hon. Friends still wished to speak. I read every word of the discussion in Committee upstairs and I sat in the public gallery and listened to several of the sessions. Inevitably, some of the arguments—probably the majority of them—which will be put forward have been discussed before. To hon. Members who have heard the arguments in Committee upstairs, I apologise for the repetition.

The basic principles on which I begin discussing the Amendment are, first, that I believe that the death penalty is a deterrent, particularly to the habitual criminal, and that it has had the effect of stopping the criminal from the ultimate act. The second principle from which I start is that crimes of violence—indeed, violence in general—are on the increase. The Minister of State accepted that this was so and it is generally agreed that crimes of violence are on a rising crescendo.

It would, therefore, seem that, as the prizes for the criminal are increasing in size, and as the sentences now being imposed by the courts are becoming heavier and more severe, the criminal is put in the position of being more liable to take extreme action to avoid this happening. Quite obviously, it is in his interest to avoid capture if he can. This leads one to assume that there could be an increase in the numbers of the type of people whom we are discussing in the Amendment.

Even if that were not true, those who until the Second Reading of the Bill would have been hanged for murder will now be kept in prison—at least, until they are released on licence. The Amendment deals particularly with those who, before the Bill was given a Second Reading, would have been hanged and those who might in the future take the ultimate decision to kill either to try to avoid capture by police or to avoid recognition by somebody else and who, therefore, will be kept in our prisons or may later be released.

I should like to deal with the kind of arguments which, I feel sure, the Home Secretary and hon. Members will put forward. When I listened to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton in Committee upstairs, I found his speeches extremely sincere and logical, but he was arguing that there was no case from past history to suggest that murderers would commit a second crime, and, indeed, that history showed that they did not do so. The hon. and learned Member said that there was no record—and the Minister of State supported him in this—of this type of crime in all the hon. Lady's researches throughout European countries. He said that murderers, when released, did not commit a second crime and that, on the whole, violence was not committed by murderers when serving prison sentences. According to the hon. Lady's researches, there was no record of convicted murderers who were kept in gaol in Europe committing a second murder while in gaol.

10.45 a.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)

I am sure that the hon. Member would not like to mislead the Committee. I am not sure what he meant by "no record". The records are here and they show conclusively that there are hardly any such murders. I do not know in what respect the hon. Member is using the word "record".

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

What does the hon. Lady mean by "hardly any"? She gave the figures to the Committee upstairs. Perhaps later, when the hon. Lady addresses the Committee, she will be able to elaborate what she means by "hardly any". There are some. I accept that the records produced by the hon. Lady showed that there were a few instances, but not many instances, of this having occurred.

Mr. David Webster (Weston super Mare)

I am sorry that I cannot hear my hon. Friend very well. I gather him to be saying that the Minister of State suggested that there were very few instances of released murderers committing a second offence. Is there not a recent example within the recollection of hon. Members?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Indeed, that is so. I was saying—and I am sorry that my hon. Friend could not hear me very well—that the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton was supported by the Minister of State to the effect that murderers who were in prison or who had been released did not, on the whole, commit second murders—

Miss Bacon

indicated assent.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

—and that the hon. Lady had figures to prove this. It must, however, be pointed out, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) has reminded us, that there have been murderers who have committed a second murder.

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton argued that because that was so, we must change the basis of our argument, accept the facts as they are and move on from there. The point is, however, that in this country people who have been convicted of capital murder have hitherto been executed. They have not been kept in prison. Therefore, there is no past history on which we can judge whether they commit second murders. If the hon. and learned Member for Northampton and his hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne quote the European example to show that, because this has not happened in Europe therefore it would not happen here, their assumption is a false one. As my hon. Friends pointed out in Committee upstairs, the conditions in European prisons are extremely harsh. On the whole, European prisons—I am not talking about Scandinavia—try to break a man's spirit when he is serving a sentence of life imprisonment for having committed murder.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Would the hon. Gentleman assist us by telling us what is the purpose of the Amendment? Is it that such a second murderer deserves to hang, or is it that he thinks that such a murderer would be more deterrable by the threat of a death penalty than other murderers would be?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

If the hon. Gentleman waits for me to develop my argument, he will find out. I am not going to take up too much of the Committee's time.

I was talking about the comparison made with European prisons. I have been inside these prisons as a prisoner and seen what happens there. They adopt much harsher methods for dealing with prisoners than we would allow, and it is right that we should not allow that sort of thing to happen here. They try to break the spirit of the convicted and condemned murderer.

Mr. Paget

I assume that when the hon. Gentleman is talking of Europe he is talking of France. I think that, on the whole, with the possible exception of Spain, which I do not know, all the other European countries tend to have rather less harsh systems than we do.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

Will my hon. Friend take into account what happens in Italy, where quite frequently a convicted murderer serves 25 to 30 years, and is very rarely let out?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I was referring not to France particularly, but to Spain and the Benelux countries, and I assure the Committee that what I have said is true, as. I found out from bitter experience.

The point is that we cannot take what happens in Europe as a guide to what will happen here, because their systems and standards are entirely different from ours. God forbid that we should ever have those standards in our prison system. It may be said that some countries in Europe have moved ahead since the days about which I am speaking. I hope that they have, but, nevertheless, to refer to what has happened in Europe and say that that is what will happen here is a false argument. It is not one which will stand up to examination, and it is not one which should be the main consideration in deciding whether to accept the. Amendment.

The hon. Lady the Minister of State said in Committee upstairs that there were many vicious and brutal criminals in our gaols today. It was only by good luck on their part that they did not kill when they attacked and maimed their victims. If the penalty for going a little further is only life imprisonment, which in fact is a sentence of only eight to 12 years, these vicious and brutal criminals could well be in the category of people about whom we are talking, and to whom the Amendment refers.

In Committee upstairs my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) pointed out that the people who had been convicted of capital murder were, on the whole, people who had committed crimes in the past. They had records, and were not the kind of people who committed murders on the spur of the moment; murders of a non-capital character, as differentiated in the 1957 Act.

Miss Bacon

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wishes to be fair. He keeps quoting little bits of my speeches upstairs, completely out of context. What I was saying when I said that we had vicious and brutal criminals in our prisons was that we had to look after them in the past inside our prisons because they had not been murderers, and so it was no new problem to have to look after this type of person in our prisons.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I did not want to weary the Committee by quoting whole chunks of what the hon. Lady said upstairs. I was using the point that she made that these people exist, and are in prison. At the moment it is sheer luck that they have not killed in the process of committing crimes. I am sure that the hon. Lady and the Committee will accept that that is so. My argument is that if the death penalty is removed, they might go a stage further, either by bad luck, or with intent, and become the kind of person with whom we are dealing in the Amendment.

As far as I can understand from what the Home Secretary said during the Second Reading debate, people who are convicted of capital murder can, and will, be released after eight to 12 years, during which period they will undergo corrective training. Some people will benefit from such corrective training, but I am certain that some will not. We have been given a lot of figures of the type of people involved. I submit to the Committee that unless we adopt the European system of breaking a man's spirit, or of keeping him in gaol, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) says, for 25 years, we are liable to find people of this type being released into society without being reformed, and without the corrective treatment being fully effective.

It is wrong for the Committee to take the chance that these people, either inside prison or outside it, will commit a second murder. We should ensure that there is the full deterrent effect to try to stop them so doing. We must remember that, as the Bill stands, they will know the worst that the law can do to them. They will know that the most they can get is a sentence to eight to 12 years. They will know what will happen. They will have experience of it. Thus, if they are habitual criminals, and they go back to a life of crime when they are released, they will take even greater care not to be caught a second time, but, even if they are caught, they will not be afraid of what will happen to them.

I do not think it is right that this Committee should allow that type of person to be released into society without the maximum deterrent being available in an effort to safeguard the public and the individual. I believe that it is our duty in this Committee to provide the maximum safeguard for society, and, indeed, to provide the maximum deterrent to a second crime of this nature being committed.

I believe that we must take this step. I believe that we must accept the Amendment because, if we do not, society and the people of this country will never forgive us if by any chance a second murder is committed by somebody who has been convicted of capital murder. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare is relevant to this argument. I believe that society will not forgive us, either as individuals or as Parliament, if that sort of thing happens. That is why I ask the Committee to accept the Amendment. It is a deterrent to stop something which I believe could well be to the detriment of our society.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I am glad to have the opportunity to support the Amendment, because I was not a member of the Committee upstairs, and I have an observation to make in connection with the Amendment based on personal experience in my constituency.

It is difficult to understand how the multi-murderer can ever be sane. A man who commits a whole series of murders would, I assume, be regarded as mentally affected in any case, but there was an instance in my constituency in which the court found that the man was sane. That was the case of Miles Gifford, which happened a few years ago. He was the son of the woman vice-chairman of my Conservative Association. On the day that he committed his murders his mother was in Plymouth with my wife. We do not know exactly what happened. Miles Gifford was always in trouble. He had a quarrel with his father and deliberately murdered him. Not content with that, he waited in St. Austell for a considerable time for his mother to come back in order to murder her as well.

11.0 a.m.

His mother had been in Plymouth with my wife, and she invited my wife to go home to tea with her in St. Austell. Had my wife done so, presumably she would also have been murdered. Fortunately, she had a speaking engagement in Plymouth and did not go, but the unfortunate Mrs. Gifford went home and was murdered by her son—or, rather, not completely murdered; he knocked her about, put her in a wheelbarrow, and threw her over a cliff. She was still alive when he did this. He also threw over the cliff the body of his father.

He then proceeded to steal a car, go to London, pick up a girl and go to a dance. Anyone would think that in those circumstances he could not possibly have been sane, but in the trial that subsequently took place, at which a great deal of medical evidence was given, it was found that he was sane, and he was hanged.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

We are all interested in the case that the hon. Member is citing, but has not he perceived that the Amendment now under discussion would not cover that case? It proposes to retain the death penalty only for second murderers who have already been convicted. In the case cited by the hon. Member the murderer had not already been convicted.

Mr. Wilson

I am aware of that. My point is that if it is possible for a man to be so callous as this man was, the fact that he had committed one murder and had been convicted would not have prevented his committing another murder at the first opportunity. Assuming he was sane

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

He was not sane.

Mr. Wilson

The medical evidence was that he was sane. He was completely callous as to the number of people he murdered, or the circumstances in which he murdered them. Had he been imprisoned for murder and subsequently released I have no doubt that he would have committed another murder or, if he had the chance, before release he would have murdered a warder in order to escape. He was indifferent to the preservation of life.

Mr. Paget

Is the hon. Member making a case that it is plain that hanging is not a deterrent in this sort of situation?

Mr. Wilson

I am not suggesting that it would be a deterrent in this case. I do not know what we can do with a man of this sort in order to protect the public, other than hang him, or dispose of him in some way—because he seems to be entirely indifferent to the preservation of life. Whether or not the medical evidence in that case was correct is a matter for argument, but it seems to me that there are cases—

Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

Is not the hon. Member making a case for a change in the law on the question whether an alleged murderer is or is not sane? He is talking about medical evidence, but medical evidence can be considered only within the context of laws which most medical opinion believes are completely out of date. In the case to which the hon. Member is referring I am positive that most medical men would now say that the murderer was completely insane.

Mr. Wilson

One would have thought so. But I would not wish to abolish the death penalty for multiple murder unless we could find a satisfactory means of defining insanity.

Mr. Paget

Is not the case that the hon. Member is making really a case for hanging the insane? They are the most dangerous.

Mr. Wilson

I do not think so. At any rate, the point that I wanted to bring before the Committee was the question whether or not there are persons who are so dangerous that it would be wrong to let them out again or to allow them to remain in prison where they might murder a warder. Such cases are no doubt exceptional, but the law must provide for the exceptional case, and for those reasons I support the Amendment.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

We are discussing two Amendments. There seems to me to be some distinction in effect, if not in kind, between the two. The Amendment that has been moved would exclude from the provisions of the Bill those people who murder for a second time. The other Amendment is a little more selective, in that it would exclude those people who murder for a second time in the course of life imprisonment. That Amendment may cover the same sort of person, but it is more likely that in that case the second murder would be that of a prison officer or another prisoner.

I agree that there is a strong case for excluding from the provisions of the Bill all those who kill more than once, as Section 6 of the Homicide Act provides, but the strongest case of all is for protecting public servants, and it is with that object in mind that the second Amendment has been tabled.

All hon. Members have a duty to be particular about public servants, and especially about the consequence upon their working lives of any action that we may take. Whether or not the Amendment is accepted it will have little effect upon our work or our lives, but the same cannot be said of prison officers. If there is total abolition we shall increase, however fractionally, the element of risk in their work. There is no agreement between those on one side and those on the other as to what that element of risk amounts to, but there seem to be three broad objections to making this exclusion from the provisions of the Bill.

The first, which has been repeated on many previous occasions, is that experience in those countries which have abolished the death penalty shows that prison officers are not murdered and that therefore no risk is involved. The second is that assaults on prison officers, even gross assaults which, in the last recorded year amounted to 18 out of a total of 159 assaults on prison officers—I hope that the hon. Lady will confirm the figures—stopped short of murder, and accordingly in that year and in preceding years no prison officer was murdered. The third is that murderers as a class, are not particularly prone to murder for a second time. With rare exceptions that is true.

None of these points of view represents the feelings of the prison officers themselves. In paragraph 21 the Royal Commission reiterated the strong feelings of those who have the closest professional dealings with criminals—police officers and prison officers—on the deterrent value of the death penalty. It hardly seems likely that that view will have changed since the Royal Commission reported. Some prison officers are abolitionists, but many others are not, and their spokesmen have the gravest reservations about this aspect of the Bill.

I regard prison officers as most reliable witnesses. The bulk of them are dedicated men—as they have to be—who know far more about the criminal population than any of us and who are not given to agitating foolishly. In those circumstances, any reservations that they may have must be treated with the utmost respect. But the onus lies upon us to deal with the three main objections to the Amendment. First, evidence from other countries and here I wish to say a general word which may anticipate what may be said about other Amendments. The Royal Commission with quite emphatic that comparisons with other countries are not valid when considering this subject in respect of the United Kingdom. I will not quote at length, and take up the time of the Committee, but paragraph 64 begins: An initial difficulty is that it is almost impossible to draw valid comparisons between different countries. If hon. Members will look at Appendix 6 they will find that there is laid down in that appendix, in some detail, the reasons why the Commission found that comparisons with other countries, both in respect of prisons and other aspects of capital punishment, were not valid and were not to be relied on. Even if comparisons with other countries were valid, essential differences are created in the Bill. It would add a very small but very important category of capital murderers to the permanent care of prison officers. There is the second objection that there has been no recently recorded case of a fatal injury inflicted on a prison officer. This seems to me a rather tenuous argument with which to resist the Amendment, partly because of what I have said about the category of prisoners which will fall under the charge of prison officers and partly also because past experience is never a reliable guide for future events. Admittedly risk to prison officers will be smaller when the strong security prison, mentioned in earlier proceedings is provided. The risk for prison officers without the deterrent of the death penalty must be relatively greater when prisoners are dispersed in 10, 15 or 20 prisons. If it is necessary to spread one or two violent criminals the system of supervision is more difficult and probably more dangerous.

Let me say at once that the strong security prison will be a contribution to the future safety of prison officers, but we do not know how soon this wing or prison is to be ready, or what conditions will prevail there. It is fair to surmise that it will be a considerable time before the prison is in operation and it will be in full working use some time after the provisions in this Bill become law if the Bill reaches the Statute Book. I must not anticipate the next Amendment on the Notice Paper, but this will not necessarily safeguard all prison officers from murder done by those who have not murdered before. One effect of removing the deterrent is to introduce a new hazard there. But I accept that the provision of the new prison will help.

What it cannot do, however secure it may be, is to change the fact that a man serving a life sentence, wherever he may be serving it, is aware that under the provisions in the Bill, if it becomes law, the murder for a second time would have an adverse but not necessarily a fatal effect upon him. None of us can tell what the effect would be. None of us can be clear in his mind"s eye about what a prisoner, with the prospect of a life sentence, must expect if he commits a second murder. We may be sure of one thing, that the life sentence will not be doubled for a second murder.

I find it difficult to see where an adequate punishment, which means an adequate deterrent, would find its place in the conception which the Home Secretary was good enough to give us of how he sees a life sentence being served by the general run of criminals. In effect, the deterrent must be weakened and to that extent the risk to prison officers is increased. It must be. No one could argue otherwise although they might argue about the degree.

11.15 a.m.

That murderers as a class are not necessarily likely to murder again was true of murderers before 1957 when the Homicide Act became law. It is probably true of the majority of non-capital murderers. It is not true of the class which we now term capital murderers. We are not now discussing under the terms of the Bill murderers of the passionate and compassionate class for whom here will always be a degree if not of understanding at least of comprehension. The arguments for years against the death penalty have been on their behalf. Now we are discussing the predominantly dangerous group of criminals who have been regarded hitherto as capital murderers.

Of the 52 convicted capital murderers since 1957, 14 had no previous convictions; 38 had between 1 and 21. There was a total of 203 offences involved, half of them in respect of arceny—104—and about one-sixth of the total—33—in respect of breaking and entering. The point I wish to stress is that those involved were predominantly professional criminals, not the critical murderer who is so often cited in arguments about abolition, but increasingly men of violent and ruthless disposition.

I have deliberately avoided repeating any remarks made on a previous occasion in other circumstances, but I should like to recall some views on this point expressed some time ago by the late Lord Waverley, or Sir John Anderson as he thin was, who understood more about this matter than most. In a speech made in this House he said: What I do say is that there are people—the "mad dogs' and 'wild beasts' of society—who would not on present standards be certified insane, who, if the capital sentence is abolished, ex hypothesi will be suffering the maximum penalty for violent crime, and who at any moment might break out in ungovernable passion and commit violence perhaps resulting in the death of a prison officer. This is a problem and we must face it. Sir John went on to say that some would have to be detained indefinitely and he asked: What is to be the attitude of the warders towards a prisoner in that position who may use violence towards them and take their lives, if he can, with impunity because he is already undergoing the severest punishment known to the law?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1948; Vol. 449, c. 1004–5.]

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Am I not right in thinking—I hope that the right hon. Member will make it clear—that in the speech from which he has just quoted the late Sir John Anderson was speaking against the whole idea of the abolition of the death penalty? Is not that right?

Mr. Deedes

I am no contradicting what the hon. Gentleman says about the circumstances in which the speech was made. I am saying that the remarks made then stand as well today as they did on the day when they were made.

It may be asked—I think it an important question—why should prisoners kill at all? They kill outside prison for gain, for greed, in furtherance of theft, but why should they kill in prison? My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) has put forward on other occasions some views on the subject of prison conditions, and expressed the feeling that they could generate certain impulses. That is not a view which I share. I think that there is a simpler motive—the desire of desperate men to make their escape and a determination to allow nothing to thwart them in the act of escaping from prison.

We have many examples within our recollection of what a man will do to make good his escape from prison when serving a life sentence. Some of the things are almost incredible of terms of ingenuity, self-discipline and determination. Moreover, the man has nothing to lose under the terms of the Bill who may find it necessary to kill two or three while affecting his escape. There are men who would do that; very few, perhaps, but there are some.

Mr. Paget

The right hon. Member's point which interested me was that all the capital murderers since the 1957 Act, or a considerable proportion of them, were criminals with experience of prison. In fact, is not the evidence that as prisoners they had been no more difficult to control than others, that they were not murderers when in prison?

Mr. Deedes

I cannot accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. We have not yet had experience of committing to life imprisonment what we now describe as capital murderers, the bulk of whom are professional criminals and who, even in prison, will seek nothing more than escape. I am dealing with the consequence of that.

Mr. Paget

I thought that the right hon. Member's point was precisely the opposite, that we had experience of imprisoning these men, because they had been in prison already.

Mr. Deedes

I cannot be diverted by the hon. and learned Member's point. The argument advanced is that this new category of prisoner will constitute a fresh risk to prison officers. I cannot see, whether in 1gaol or in 20 separate gaols, the existence of these men and the risk which it would entail under the Bill could fail to have some effect on prison conditions for the majority. I believe that the consequences could be, even if it were confined to one prison, wholly inimical to the course which most hon. Members seek for penology in general. Those who want enlightened policies in penology should weigh this.

Presumably, we would all seek enlightened policies, even for the life sentence. I know that the Home Secretary does and I do not quarrel with him here. He does not desire that a man who might not hang if the Bill were made law should suffer a horrible alternative. There is a school of thought which inclines that way, which says that if we abolish hanging we must be sure that the alternative is so horrible as to provide almost an equivalent deterrent. That cannot he done and it never will be done. It would be alien to the basic principle of English law that men are sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment.

Hon. Members must decide where the lesser evil lies. They must weigh up the conditions which it may be necessary to enforce in a prison where these men may be detained and, whether or not as a consequence of these conditions, the possibility that the actions which prison warders have to take would be inimical to the existence and the lives of others besides these men.

There is a horrible dilemma over these men who have murdered for a second time and have already suffered life imprisonment. What is the sentence to be for them—life imprisonment or even longer? Sooner or later, the question of release must arise. What is to be done about releasing these men? All the evidence which we have from the Royal Commission and anyone else is that they will rot in prison. I do not believe that any Government, given the requisite medical report, would allow any man to rot in prison. They would release him. They might release him perhaps five years after the second murder, or 15 years after the first, but they would release him.

Mr. Arthur Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Is the right hon. Member aware that where people are confined because they are mentally deranged, they spend their lives in what is, in effect, a prison and that the same argument would apply to them as would apply to the convicted murderer?

Mr. Deedes

I do not want to detain the Committee, but there is a point here. Many people believe that the conditions in which men serve life imprisonment would affect the duration of their sentence. There is a good deal of evidence which says that this is wrong. It is not harsh prison conditions, but the extinction of hope which causes men in prison to collapse after a certain period. There is more at stake here even than the safety of prison officers. There is the possible course of penology in respect of those who have served the longest sentence. I think that that is something which the Committee should weigh very carefully before they part with these Amendments.

Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

I want very briefly to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). I think that he has described very clearly to the Committee the type of person we have in mind when considering these two Amendments. The number of capital murderers who commit a second murder must of necessity be very small. Therefore, we are considering only a very small number of people, and I feel that, in these circumstances, it is absolutely right that the Committee should write into the Bill some form of sanction, some form of provision which will enable society as a whole to be protected against this type of individual with a particularly violent temperament.

I do not see that inclusion of the Amendment in the Bill would go against it. I know that the purpose of the Bill is primarily to abolish this form of punishment, the death penalty as such. But are the promoters of the Bill concerned primarily with the penalty for the criminal, or are they concerned to bring our procedure—to use their own words—up to date in dealing with the criminal and hoping, by some form of remedial training during the course of a man's prison sentence, to restore that man to society so that he will never again constitute a danger to society?

This is a laudable aim and it may well be that near 100 per cent. perfection can be achieved by better methods of remedial training during prison sentence. But there must always remain the risk, particularly where this type of person is concerned, that he will commit a second murder. Surely we have a duty in this Committee to consider not just how best to preserve the criminal, or, rather, to reconstitute the criminal, but how best to protect the potential victim. This is the aspect which, I am certain, every hon. Member, whatever his views on the Bill, must have in mind when discussing these Amendments. The few people who are likely to do this will, none the less, cause a grave anguish to the country if there is no other form of protection for them against these people except a further few years of imprisonment.

I do not know what the experience of other countries has been in this regard, nor do I know—I think that this is an important point which perhaps the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) could touch upon later—what special procedures he would have in mind under the Bill for dealing with the "second time around" murderer. How long would he be kept in prison? Taking up the point of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, does the hon. Member anticipate any special provision for dealing with a second murderer? Is that man to be kept in prison for a particularly long period, or is there a feeling in the hon. Member's mind and in the minds of others who support this measure that what has not been achieved in the form of curing during the first term of prison sentence could, in some miraculous way, be achieved after the second murder has been committed and during the second term of prison sentence?

11.30 a.m.

If there is no hope of curing this type of criminal, then there must be a guarantee for the community that this kind of criminal will not be unleashed on it again in the future. If we are dealing not with the mentally defective but with a man of violent temperament, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford described, who has a crime record of petty larceny and of other offences and who has resorted to murder in the furtherance of his criminal activities, who alter a comparatively short spell in prison finds that he can carry on his activities where he left them off, and who again commits murder—is this the sort of person for whom it can be said that there is some remedial cure coming out of the prison system? If so, I should like to know, but I genuinely do not believe there is at the moment. Arguments may be adduced to prove that this can be done but we have no experience of it.

This is a very great risk and responsibility which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and others take on their shoulders. I am not a violent hanger or anything like that, but I am concerned to see that innocent people are protected against the type of person we are considering. I do not believe that the Bill as drafted goes anywhere near dealing with that situation. It does not face up to the fact and it does not consider it in any aspect.

I do not think that the Amendments offend the basic principles of the Bill, which is to deal with the murderer, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford described earlier—the passionate or momentary, the man who kills in the heat of the moment. But there is no provision in the Bill to deal with the violent-minded criminal, the calculating man who is offending against society and who is an enemy of all we stand for in this country, who is a danger to innocent people and who may at the slightest moment commit this violent crime. We must have some protection against him.

The people are begging the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne to write into the Bill some means for protecting them against this admittedly small minority of criminals. The Amendments are one way in which it could be done. They provide the law with the necessary sanction and the necessary weapons, if need be, to deal effectively, finally and terribly with that type of criminal so that he may never again constitute a threat to innocent persons going about their lawful business.

If the principal purpose of the Bill is to preserve the criminal, then the hon. Member will not consider the Amendment. But if in his mind—as I believe him to be—he is every bit as concerned as we are about the need to protect innocent people from becoming the victims of the habitual capital murderer, then he will accept the Amendment and other Amendments later. I hope that he will give very serious consideration to our pleas.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Whatever the people of the country may be demanding, we have had four hon. Members speaking in favour of the two Amendments which we are discussing together. It may be convenient if I indicate the attitude, or what I hope may be the attitude, to the Amendments of the supporters of the Bill. The Amendments have to be considered, just as all Amendments have to be considered, against the background of what the House of Commons has already decided by a very large, I might almost call it an overwhelming, majority.

Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)


Mr. Silverman

I will not give way at the moment.

The House decided by an overwhelming majority to abolish the death penalty for murder. In particular, it has decided to adopt the abolition in principle of the death penalty for murder contained in the Homicide Act of eight years ago and to add to that the abolition of the exceptions made in that Act on the ground that there is hardly anybody left in the world who believes that those exceptions are justifiable either in conscience or in law.

The House so decided, as I understand, for two main reasons, which I will mention to indicate what the background is and not for the purpose of persuading anybody. That, I think, we have done already. The first was that the death penalty is a nasty, bestial, cold-blooded ritual which is a blasphemy on civilisation.

Brigadier Clarke

So is murder.

Mr. Silverman

Of course murder is.

The second reason was that the only rational defence of society proceeding with such measures—namely, that if we have it there are fewer murders than if we do not have it—is demonstrably untrue. It is against that background that the Amendments have to be considered, and the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) quite clearly faced up to them. He invited me to say that these murders were of such a nature—either so bad or so deterrable—that they formed a special class and that we could adopt these Amendments without doing violence to the principle to which we have to give effect and which the House adopted by a very large majority when it gave a Second Reading to the Bill.

I hope that it will not be thought disrespectful to the arguments if I make a rather short answer. We are being asked to say that murderers as a class—I will deal with the sub-divisions of the class in a moment—are more violent and more anti-social than other criminals. We ought to take some comfort from the fact that in the great majority of cases this is demonstrably not true. Most murders are not committed by professional criminals. Most murders are not committed by people with any previous record of crime at all, still less of violent crime. We are dealing with a group of people, as a class, who, individual by individual, have found themselves in circumstances which have compelled them to commit the greatest crime of all but who are in other respects people who have lived law abiding lives.

Some reference was made to the experience of prison officers. Prison officers all agree that the convicted murderer—I will deal with the exceptional group of them in a moment- makes a very good prisoner, not a violent prisoner, not a difficult prisoner and not a prisoner who is difficult to handle. I am not now offering only a personal opinion, although I perhaps share it. I draw the attention of hon. Members who are dealing with the argument seriously and are not merely indulging in pathological emotion in favour of the death penalty—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There are people like that, let us face it—to paragraph 617 of the Report of the Royal Commmission.

In case some hon. Members do not have a copy of the Report with them I will read from that paragraph, which stated: … the evidence given to us in the countries we visited, and the information we received from others, were uniformly to the effect that murderers are no more likely than any other prisoners to commit acts of violence against officers or fellow prisoners or to attempt to escape; on the contrary it would appear that in all countries murderers are, on the whole, better behaved than most prisoners. It must be remembered too that prisoners serving life sentences have a special incentive to good behaviour, since the time they have in fact to serve depends so largely on it. There may be hon. Members who are doubtful—

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Before the hon. Gentleman goes any further, and since he used the words "there may be hon. Members who are doubtful", perhaps I should point out to him that a great deal has been said in the past week or so about the difficulties facing many hon. Members in being able to be present for the Committee stage of the Bill. There are a great many hon. Members, certainly on this side, who would like to be present to hear the hon. Gentleman's comments. but who are unable to be here, as will be seen from the rather sparse attendance.

Mr. Silverman

I do not know the purpose of that intervention, unless it was designed to defy the advice given to us by the Chair not to indulge in frivolous interventions. However, it might answer the hon. Gentleman if I say that my remarks are addressed not only to those hon. Members who happen to be within earshot, but to all hon. Members and to everyone who is interested in the argument.

As I was saying, there may be some who are doubtful whether what I have read from the Royal Commission's Report is in accord with their feelings or experience. I invite them to remember that the Royal Commission was the most powerful of its kind ever appointed in our history. It spent four or five years making the most exhaustive inquiries into all these matters, not merely in this country but in other countries in Western Europe and in the United States—in countries which had recently abolished the death penalty, in countries which had abolished it long ago and in countries which had retained it. In all of them that was uniformly the effect reported to the Royal Commission. I say, therefore, that that paragraph, which was unequivocally the uniform experience of all countries in Western Europe and America, must at least carry great authority.

Sir John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think it wrong if 1 draw his attention to the fact that the Royal Commission also reported that although the greater number of prisoners serving sentences for murder would be unlikely to give any exceptional trouble, it also drew attention to the fact that … there would no doubt be some increase in that difficult class of prisoners who have not only committed murder but have been of criminal habits or tendencies, or are of a generally violent and insubordinate or sullen and morose temperament. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will deal with both classes and not generalise on the one.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Silverman

Those passages were put in in a totally different connection and were dealing with a totally different point. I am dealing with paragraph 617, which is perfectly clear and which is not subject to any doubt at all, in which the Royal Commission stated that …murderers are no more likely than any other prisoners to commit acts of violence against officers or fellow prisoners or to attempt to escape …". It went on to say: …on the contrary, it would appear that … murderers are, on the whole, better behaved than most prisoners …". I suggest that that was an authoritative opinion which should carry conviction to anyone who is really looking at this question with an open mind. It therefore disposes of a great deal of the argument advanced this morning. However, it does not dispose of a part of it, with which I will now deal.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I respect the sincerity with which the hon. Gentleman is dealing with this matter. If these murderers have made one mistake, but are really decent men and will not do it again, what is wrong with including this sort of Amendment in the Bill, since apparently it would not apply?

Mr. Silverman

I will continue with my argument and if the hon. Gentleman will make a serious effort I am sure that he will find himself able to follow it.

I said that in the opinion of the Royal Commission, an authoritative opinion which should carry weight to any open-minded reader of its Report, to the great majority of murderers the arguments which have been addressed to the Committee this morning have no relevance at all.

I come to that portion of the argument to which the paragraph I quoted might possibly not apply. It may be said that although it is true of the great majority of convicted murderers it is not true of all of them; that some of them are people of violent temperament, certainly with one murder behind them, possibly with a record of violence and that whatever may be said about the great bulk of convicted murderers it will not apply to those in this category, minority though it is admitted to be.

Perhaps it does not, but this division of prisoners between the more or less well behaved and the constitutionally violent does not apply only to convicted murderers. There are many prisoners who have never been convicted of murder, have never been guilty of murder, but who have been repeatedly convicted of violence. What the Amendment proposes to do is to make a distinction between them and murderers, almost all of whom have never committed acts of violence. If the Amendment were carried a man who had spent 30 or 40 years in violent crime without committing murder and who then committed murder in a prison or later in his life would not be guilty of any capital crime.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in comparatively recent years there have been two cases of murderers who have been let out on licence—presumably, therefore, having been found to be sane by the medical authorities—and who, in both cases, committed a second murder? One of them was subsequently hanged and the other sent back to prison. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise, therefore, that there have been cases of this type in recent years.

Mr. Silverman

With very great respect to the hon. Member—I am sure that it must be my fault—he does not seem to have been following the argument. What I am saying, dealing with murderers who are not well behaved, murderers with a violent record—and it is those whom the hon. Member has in mind—is that there are a great many other prisoners who are not convicted murderers but who are as violent, if not more violent, with a much worse record of violence, and that the effect of these Amendments would be to relieve those people of a capital sentence merely because they had not committed murder before, although they were much more violent and had a worse record of violence than many murderers. This cannot be right.

This is only another instance of what the Royal Commission found, which was that if we try to make exceptions we land ourselves in more anomalies than we escape from. That is why the Royal Commission unanimously recommended that we should not persist in any attempt at discrimination at all—

Sir J. Eden

Surely, the man in the second category to which the hon. Member was referring—the man of criminal record who was not a murderer previously and who murdered in prison—would be dealt with, as it were, under another Amendment on the Notice Paper. All we are dealing with here is the convicted murderer who murders again, and this must surely be a particular and special category.

Mr. Silverman

What I am very laboriously—and at greater length than I had intended—seeking to persuade the Committee of is that we cannot make the distinction recommended by these Amendments in the case of convicted murderers qua convicted murderers, because the great majority of them in prison are well-behaved prisoners. If we are to make the discrimination at all—and I can see some kind of plausible argument in favour of it—we should not make it between convicted murderers and those convicted of other crimes. We should make it, if at all, as between prisoners with a long record of violence and people convicted of crime not involving violence. That would be a rational discrimination, and an arguable one, whereas the Amendments are not rational or arguable at all.

The further point I make—

Mr. Godfrey Lagden (Hornchurch)

While we are on the point of the behaviour of these people in prison, would not the hon. Gentleman agree that, by and large, when we have the thug type of murderer, the man who has battered a defenceless person to death, it is in the nature of the beast, when in prison, to behave as well as possible, because he is nearly always a coward—

Mr. Silverman

What is wrong with that?

Mr. Lagden

The position is that he is extremely likely to behave excellently in prison, but the moment he reverts to the outside world it is more than likely that his habits will not in any way have been cured, and that he will again pick up his way of life, and his brutality, where he left off.

Mr. Silverman

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his rather unexpected support of the proposition that murderers are well-behaved prisoners. I am glad to have converted at least one hon. Member during the course of the morning.

I say, at the moment, that the proper discrimination, and it applies just as much to the violent criminal who is not a murderer as to the murderer, can be understood, but that it would be monstrous to say that in the case of such a criminal we must not take precautions to prevent him until after he has killed someone. This is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary rather than for me, but I should have thought that the case was for having a special type of prison for a violent criminal—and this has nothing whatever to do with keeping or not keeping the death penalty for murder.

When we discussed this very thing in the Standing Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, told that Committee, as I hope she will tell this Committee, of Home Office plans for special prisons in respect of violent prisoners, but it would be stupid to say that prisons should be used only for convicted murderers or only for violent murderers. In the case of violent criminals we are dealing with a category that is not the same as the category of murderer, and it has to be dealt with specially in that way.

I therefore end up—and I have been very much longer than I intended to be, but I have given way once or twice—by saying that I am not ready to accept the arguments so eloquently pressed upon me that this was a special case, and that we could make this exception without doing violence to the decision of the House of Commons to abolish the death penalty without discrimination and without exceptions. I hope that the Committee will reject both arguments.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Frankly, I am disappointed with the line taken by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) with regard to these Amendments. As a very experienced Parliamentarian, I thought that I detected this morning a slight touchiness on his part during the speeches of my hon. Friends. If I may say so, I welcome the opportunity of making even a modest contribution from the Floor of this Chamber, and it is very significant to look around. I saw the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary look in—they must have been ashamed of the fact that there are, probably, three times as many hon. Members on this side of the Committee as on that. After all the hullabaloo a week or two ago, one would have thought that the Government benches would have been filled—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"]

Furthermore, one would have thought that those right hon. and hon. Members who would have been most inconvenienced would have been the lawyers, but on these benches they have turned up in considerable numbers, which shows the importance they attach—

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Samuel Storey)

Order. I think that the hon. Member should turn his attention to the Amendment.

Mr. Webster

I am sure that it is not in order, Sir Samuel, for me to call a Count, but there are only 12 hon. Members opposite.

Sir A. V. Harvey

I hope that a Count will not be called, Sir Samuel, because I think that the requisite numbers of Members are here, and I hope that they will continue to display interest in the various Clauses.

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne referred to hanging as a cold-blooded ritual and a blasphemy. Of course, it is—no one likes it—but I would have been more convinced if the hon. Member had referred to murder in the same terms. This is always put forward as a one-sided argument, which is most unfortunate.

What I want to emphasise is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) referred to, and that is the question of prison officers. As the Minister of State and the Home Secretary know, there is a shortage of these officers, and recruitment is difficult. We want to give every encouragement we can to people to man the service. It must be the first priority in looking after these unfortunate people to see that the prisons are properly manned.

Very few prison officers have been murdered in recent years, but many have been pretty badly "clobbered", and nearly murdered—it is largely a question of degree. When Wilson escaped from Birmingham Gaol early last autumn, I am pretty certain that his accomplices would have committed murder had they felt it to be necessary. Prison officers are running a grave risk. Their job does not involve serving just a short period overseas in some small theatre of war. It happens to them every day of their lives. This factor must be taken into account.

12 noon.

I do not think that Parliament is in line with public thinking on these matters, certainly not in my constituency. Fortunately, in my constituency I am allowed to think for myself and intend to do so. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), I am not violent about these matters. If an argument could be advanced to assure me that there was an effective deterrent to take the place of hanging, I would be for it. But I have not heard that argument yet.

I think that it is generally agreed on both sides of the Committee that, in this country at any rate, we would never entertain the notion of prisoners remaining inside for 25 or 30 years, or their whole life. It is questionable whether the men who are now serving their 30 year sentence for the train robbery will have to serve 30 years. They undoubtedly will not.

We are dealing with the few. There are not many cases involved, but surely every life is worth while. Hon. Members in favour of abolition have often said that there may be one man wrongly hanged. I do not want to see one prison officer murdered. I think that the arguments apply equally. The hon. Lady the Minister of State has in the past referred to special security prisons. This is a move in the right direction, where the most difficult prisoners will be confined, but the risk there will undoubtedly be greater for those in charge of those prisons. There cannot be one prison officer for every prisoner. There will be a great element of risk. The Committee would like to be told a little more about it before we proceed with it.

To keep prisoners in gaol all their lives would be soul destroying. It has been said that after 15 years the individual gives up hope. I hope personally that, as these discussions continue, we shall be told more about the alternative deterrent to hanging. I hope that we shall see more hon. Members opposite than there are at present.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I want to say at the outset what my position is in this, to me, most horrible of controversies. I have for nearly 10 years now been an abolitionist who regards increasingly the filthy ceremonial of the death penalty with utter and complete abhorrence. That, however, is not the end of the matter. When his enthusiasm and the strength of his convictions for the Bill of which he is sponsor lead the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) into a contempt for the arguments put against the Bill—

Mr. Sydney Silverman

I am very sorry if anything I said gave any justification for what has just been said. I respect the sincerity of those who want to retain the death penalty as much as I respect the sincerity of those of us who do not, and I do not regard their arguments with contempt. I made a very, very long speech in which I endeavoured to examine patiently and, I hope, courteously every one of the arguments which has been offered to us this morning. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who says he is an abolitionist, will not say that kind of thing again.

Mr. Peyton

Just before the hon. Gentleman sits he puts a sting in the tail of all his remarks by saying that I say I am an abolitionist. Does he mean to say that there is some question of my sincerity here or not?

Mr. Sydney Silverman

No. On the contrary, I pay the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman's sincerity. What I hoped hat he would not say again was that I treated either his arguments or those of the retentionists with contempt. I do not.

Mr. Peyton

Very well. I would gladly give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking never to repeat that, so long as he will give me and the Committee the undertaking that he will not make a habit of referring to the pathological emotions shown by those who are addicted to what I personally feel is a filthy thing.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

I expressly said that that remark applied only to a very small number. The hon. Member, who has as much experience of this controversy as I have, knows full well that it applies to some.

Mr. Peyton

Of course. I would readily concede that there are those on both sides of any controversy whose views are extreme and do not command sympathy. However, the worse way for the hon. Gentleman to advance his cause is to bandy about such accusations. Better by far to ignore those who make themselves ridiculous by taking up extreme positions.

Let me say how much I welcome the return of the Committee stage of the Bill to the Floor of the House of Commons. I believe that this is far too deep-founded a controversy, a controversy in which many people take part—some people may feel without understanding the issues involved—to be settled anywhere except on the Floor of the House of Commons.

These Amendments are part of the basic dilemma. I am sure that the Home Secretary is, above all, conscious of the importance in the public mind of these two aspects of the problem. In 1957, following the previous decision of Parliament that the death penalty should be abolished, the previous Government were forced into the arena and they produced a Measure which was admittedly and confessedly a temporary compromise. It was a Bill which afforded a measure of progress to those who, like myself, believe in and support abolition. To those, on the other hand, who had genuine, sincere and deep-felt anxieties, it contained some assurance that the move towards abolition was not to be as headlong and as precipitate as they feared.

Admittedly, that Measure was temporary. I do not believe that anyone thought that it could stand for long. I have been profoundly impressed by what I understand to be the opinion of many of Her Majesty's judges that this compromise Measure has put them in an almost impossible position. The kernel of my point this morning is that I do not believe that it will be possible for the House of Commons to say goodbye to this controversy by means of a two-page Private Member's Bill. I believe that this Government will be forced out into the open, just as the last Government were. This is part of our whole criminal code. It is an important part. What are we to do about this fearful problem of violence?

I do not accept for one moment the view that has been expressed by some of my hon. Friends that what can be said of the death penalty and of capital punishment can also be said of murder. One of the horrible features of capital punishment is the ceremonial, the formality, that must inevitably be attached to it. It is the State acting in pomp and ceremony of the most horrid kind.

Having said that, we are in this dilemma as regards policemen and prison officers, at a time when law and order are seriously threatened. The Government cannot say, like Pontius Pilate, "This has nothing to do with us. We wash our hands of it". If I may say so, I have great respect for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, both for his ability for his courage and honesty. I hope that he will allow those undoubted qualities to force him to come into the open in this controversy and take the constructive lead which must be his.

I do not regard the argument of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that this discussion takes place against the background of a large majority decision of the House of Commons as necessarily final. I voted for the Bill, but I do not accept that decisions of the House automatically become part of Holy Writ which cannot be reversed. There are those like myself, sometimes stupid, perhaps, sometimes misled, sometimes not understanding the issues, sometimes not clear in their minds, who find themselves genuinely torn here. This is why I say and have always said that I hate and detest this controversy. I should be miserably unhappy to find myself voting for what I detest.

On the other hand, although, of course, one cannot talk about numbers or count heads or votes—such considerations are contemptible when on an issue like this—one would be doing less than one's duty if one did not advert to the fact that many people are greatly disturbed. Many of my constituents are deeply convinced that I am wrong. Therefore, while I do not agree with them. while I should hate to vote for something which I detest, I am nevertheless impressed by their strength of view and their anxiety, and I should be doing less than my duty if I did not notice these things.

I make this further point about the Amendments. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said that most murderers are not professional criminals. I accept that, but, surely, the murderers contemplated by the Amendments are the most likely to be professional criminals. Therefore, I do not think that that argument can weigh very heavily against the Amendments.

Now, the question of the alternative and a life of personal destruction in prison. I accept that, after 15 years or so—I take this to be the evidence—a man starts seriously to deteriorate. I have myself been in prison, though not under quite the same conditions as we are discussing now. I have been behind barbed wire for five years, and I know a little of what it means, of what captivity itself involves. The Government cannot run away from this dilemma. If they intend to abolish capital punishment, they cannot run away on the loose and designedly comforting assurance that a life sentence can mean life. They must not say that any more because it is not what it means if, at the same time, one knows that a man condemned to a life sentence is released, probably, after about nine years.

I apologise for having detained the Committee, but this is a controversy which I find detestable. It is a dilemma incredibly difficult to resolve. But I feel with increasing conviction that it cannot be resolved by means of a two-page Bill which, because of the machinery of this House, cannot contain the alternative provisions which are the necessary concomitant of what would be an important move forward in our criminal procedure.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)

I am in almost the same position as the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). Like him, I abominate the whole idea of capital punishment, and I voted happily and readily for the Second Reading of the Bill. Nevertheless, I feel that, while there may be some sense in the argument of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), there are extremists on this side of the Committee who find it impossible to view this matter except with a degree of prejudice and bias in favour of retaining capital punishment at all costs, it is equally fair to say that on his side of the Committee there are abolitionists who are at least equally intolerant. Somehow, we have to find a balance between the two extremes.

I came into the Committee this morning with a completely open mind on these two Amendments. I have listened to the arguments advanced from both sides, and I wish that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne had not left his place at the moment, because I am sure that he would wish to intervene on some of the points I am about to make. Having listened carefully to his argument, I feel that it is totally unconvincing. If, as he suggests, the number of murderers who, upon release, commit the crime for a second time is so small, how is it possible for him to argue against the inclusion of these Amendments?

A further point, which has not been advanced so far, I think, but which is, perhaps, as important as any other, is that for many of us who desire anxiously to see the total abolition of capital punishment as quickly as possible one of the prevailing reasons is the finality of capital punishment. Many of us have been disturbed about possible doubts and miscarriages of justice which have occurred. The thought that a man may hang when he is innocent has gravely worried many people including, I suggest, even the most ardent retentionists.

One of the great advantages of the Amendment is that it removes that possibility. If a man has already been convicted of murder, has served a term of life imprisonment, is released and then commits a second murder and is convicted, it is almost beyond possibility of doubt that he must be guilty on at least one, if not both, of those charges. For this reason, the Amendment has great merit. It removes the real possibility of an innocent man being hanged.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

The purpose of the Amendments is not an act of revenge by society on an individual who commits murder. The purpose is to provide a deterrent to stop a murderer committing the crime a second time.

Mr. Bessell

I entirely accept that, but it does not necessarily invalidate the argument which I have advanced. I recognise that that is the purpose behind the Amendment. It is a fair point and should commend itself to the Committee.

We are liable, surely, to think of ourselves sometimes as men like gods. Have we the right to make this decision to abolish capital punishment completely, absolutely and irrevocably, when no party, and I suggest no Member, has a mandate from the electorate to do this? How many hon. Members included in their election addresses and speeches undertakings that if elected they would do everything in their power to see the abolition of the death penalty enacted by the new Parliament? I do not suggest that we have to be bound by the things which we have not said during elections. I believe that we are here to represent the country as best we are able and to arrive at our judgment in the light of the circumstances as they arise. But this is an old controversy, and to that extent—

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if it is an old controversy, the electorate was well aware that if a Labour Government were elected at the last election the question of the abolition of capital punishment would arise? Does he not agree that those of us who have supported the abolition of capital punishment all through have informed our electorate about this and that our attitude to capital punishment was well known to the electors?

Mr. Bessell

I accept part of that argument. Like the hon. Member, I have always made it clear to the electorate in my constituency that I was in favour of the abolition of capital punishment.

The Deputy-Chairman

Order. The hon. Member must come to the Amendment.

Mr. Bessell

May I answer the point raised and still try to remain in order? If, as has been suggested, the country knew that a Labour Government would introduce a Bill for the abolition of the death penalty, why was this not included in the Labour Party's election manifesto and in the speeches made on television and the radio by the leaders of the party? But I see that I am in danger of being out of order, and I will leave that point.

I came into the Committee with a completely open mind on this subject. I wanted, I think, to vote against the two Amendments. But having listened to the arguments which have been advanced, nothing I have heard from the other side of the Committee has convinced me or, I am sure, anyone else that there is any reason why these Amendments should not be included in the Bill. If they are included in the Bill, we shall have at least have gone some way to meet the very real anxiety which many people feel throughout the country as the result of the introduction of a Bill which was totally unexpected by the majority of people and which I do not believe the Government or any of us have a mandate to put on the Statute Book without some Amendment.

Miss Bacon

This has been a very good debate. At times it has wandered rather wide of the Amendments and at times it has been almost a Second Reading debate. One difficulty which we experienced in Committee upstairs, and which it appears that we shall experience on the Floor of the House, is that Amendments are so arranged, through no fault of those who have tabled them, that almost the whole Committee will want us to give the answers to later Amendments before a decision is taken on the first Amendment. The later Amendments deal with what is the alternative to the death penalty. In Committee upstairs many hon. Members asked the Government what would be the alternative, but we were prohibited from going into that until we had reached later Amendments.

Perhaps I may say, while remaining in order, that one thing which is usually overlooked about a life sentence is that even when the person comes out of prison he is subject to recall throughout the whole of his life, even if he does not commit another offence, if he acts in such a way that it looks as if he might commit an offence.

Mr. Webster

How often has this recall been carried out in the last five years?

Miss Bacon

I could not say how often, but I can quote a case which has happened while I have been at the Home Office. This was not a murder, but a man found guilty of rape and given a life sentence. He was out on licence. He would not comply with the terms of his licence and he was brought back into prison. He is in prison at present. I cannot tell the House exactly how many cases there are, but I can assure the House that it does happen.

Sir A. V. Harvey

When a prisoner comes out of prison, on licence, perhaps with two or three years' sentence to run, when that licence expires, is he still liable to be sent back again? I thought that a man was clear when his licence had expired.

Miss Bacon

I understand that if it is a life sentence, as distinct from a fixed number of years, the person is subject to recall throughout the whole of his life. It may be that with a fixed long sentence the man is on licence for a certain number of years, but I understand that a life-sentence prisoner is liable to recall for the rest of his life.

Sir A. V. Harvey

I have a constituent who received a life sentence. He served seven or eight years. I learned this from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor at the Home Office. I understood that after three years on licence he was completely in the clear.

Miss Bacon

That is only if a Royal prerogative is exercised. I am informed that a life sentence means that when a person is let out of prison he is on recall for the rest of his life.

Sir J. Hobson

It is the position, is it not, that the Home Secretary can impose conditions? Of course, those conditions may expire after a period. But even though the conditions had expired the man would still be liable to recall over the whole of his life.

Miss Bacon

That is exactly the position.

This is a very serious matter which we are discussing because it involves life and death. It is sometimes said of those of us who are abolitionists that we care only about the criminal and not about the victim. That is a very unworthy way of stating the views of the abolitionists. We care very much about the victim.

We are discussing two Amendments together. The first is that the death penalty should be retained for any second murder whether or not that murder takes place inside a prison or after the person has left prison. The second Amendment is to retain the death penalty for a second murder committed while in prison by a person serving a life sentence for murder.

12.30 p.m.

The Homicide Act, 1957, made several exceptions to the abolition of the death penalty. These were murder in the course or furtherance of theft, murder by shooting or causing an explosion, murder of a police officer and, in the case of a person serving a prison sentence at the time, murder of a prison officer while in the execution of his duty. It also retained the death penalty for a second or double murder.

When we voted on Second Reading of the Bill, there was an overwhelming majority in favour of abolition. I do not want to say that these two Amendments should be rejected solely because they are the first of a series, but it is a point that I must make. They are, in fact, the first of a series of Amendments—and if all those Amendments were accepted we would be back to the same position as the Homicide Act, 1957, established. We would have capital murder and non-capital murder. I know that many hon. Members opposite would like that to be so, but I understood that, on Second Reading, the House voted against that position.

Mr. Peyton

I think that the hon. Lady is missing the point. The majority of the House voted for abolition of the death penalty—myself among them. But we hoped that, at a later stage, it would be possible for the Government to bring forward alternative arrangements which might be satisfactory from the point of view of security and the safety of the public. It appears that this is not to happen. If it does not happen, if the Government do nothing, then these Amendments become issues which even abolitionists must at least seriously consider.

Miss Bacon

Again, I must point out that we are in the difficulty that the Amendments dealing with what is to be the alternative to the death penalty come later on the Notice Paper.

Mr. Peyton

Will the hon. Lady give way again? I do not wish to be a nuisance to her or to the Committee, but this is an important matter. I hope that, in dealing with these Amendments, she will not allow her argument to become isolated. If the Government have something useful and constructive to say about proposals which may come later in our consideration of the Bill, it would be quite wrong to think that they would have no effect or would be out of order if they were mentioned in considering these Amendments.

Miss Bacon

It was precisely on this point that, at the last meeting of the Standing Committee, I was ruled out of order. I will do my best to satisfy the hon. Gentleman without being ruled out of order, but I do not promise him that I will be able to do so.

The Chairman

Order. I warn the hon. Lady that she had better be very careful.

Miss Bacon

As I was saying before the interruptions began, the 1957 Act had a distinction between capital and non-capital murders. I was under the impression that most of those who voted for abolition during our Second Reading proceedings on the Bill did so because they wanted to get away from that distinction and all the anomalies and difficulties that it created.

Some figures have been given already today. Many figures were quoted during the Standing Committee proceedings. There are figures of murder in this country which are sometimes used to support both arguments. For example, I quote the fact that there are few second murders. Indeed, in this century we know of only three cases where an already convicted murderer has murdered again.

First, there was Walter Rowlands, convicted of the murder of his two-year-old child and reprieved in May, 1934. He was convicted again on 16th December, 1946, of murdering a woman with whom he had been associating and he was executed.

Mr. Paget

My hon. Friend is, of course, aware that, in that case, the murder for which Rowlands was hanged was confessed to by a man called Ware and that Rowlands was almost certainly innocent.

Miss Bacon

I do not want to be led off on to that case. I merely want to quote the number of cases known in which a second murder has been committed as far as the courts are concerned.

Secondly, there was Christopher Simcox, convicted on 7th July, 1948, released on licence in 1959 and convicted again in 1964, when he was reprieved. Thirdly, there was Peter Dunford, convicted on 9th December, 1963, of murdering another youth and convicted on 17th December last of murdering a prisoner in Wakefield Prison and reprieved. This latter murder is the only one we have on record of a murder in prison and I would emphasise that it took place last July before the Second Reading of the Bill.

Sir Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)

There was also the case of Donald Hume, who was originally charged with the murder of a man called Setty but was convicted of being an accessory after the fact. He subsequently confessed to the murder of Setty, however, and then he committed murder in Switzerland, where he is now serving imprisonment for life.

Miss Bacon

I was quoting murders committed in this country. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that Hume committed murder for the second time in Switzerland. There are only three cases in this country that we know of.

I am quite prepared to admit that figures like this can be used both ways, as we have found. Those who are abolitionists can say, "There are so few of these" while, on the other hand, retentionists can say, "There are few of them, but that is because the death penalty existed at the time". That is what we have been up against in considering all the figures quoted during the Committee stage. I agreed very much with the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) who, at one stage in our proceedings upstairs, said that this was not so much a question of statistics, but of judgment.

Sir C. Taylor


Miss Bacon

I have given way quite a lot to interruptions. I would like to get on with my speech.

Sir C. Taylor

I want to know, as a matter of practical policy, what happens to a man who commits a second murder. Is he put back in prison only to be released again after a while? Do we let him out to commit a third murder?

Miss Bacon

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is asking what has happened in the past or what would happen in future under the Bill. But if it is the latter case, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to make his contribution when we come to later Amendments.

Perhaps I may return now to the Amendments we are discussing. First, there is the case of a person who has been released and who murders again after leaving prison. This man will already have served a number of years for the first murder—perhaps a longer period than has been served in the past. In so far as the murder is premeditated, or in so far as such a person knowingly puts himself in a position where he may commit murder, then, surely, a man who has left prison after having done a long sentence would be one of the last people to commit another murder, with the chance of going back into prison for a further long sentence. He will already have done a very long spell in prison.

We are told by the retentionists that the death penalty is a deterrent. I know that they honestly believe that the death penalty is a deterrent, but will they honestly say that there is no other? Is not a further long period in prison for a man who has already done a long period in prison a great deterrent against committing a second murder?

Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)

This is one of the things which upsets some of us who are abolitionists. A man may get out of prison, not after having served a long sentence but through having escaped because of laxity in the prison. He may not have had the deterrent of long imprisonment. This is one of the disturbing factors which confuse some of us.

Miss Bacon

That interruption was unnecessary, because I am about to come to that.

I do not believe that the death penalty is the only deterrent to a man of this kind. Another long sentence in prison, probably much longer than the first which he had had already served, would be a great deterrent to a man of that kind.

What of the man who murders in prison? I have some figures of the number of murders in prison in this century. In England and Wales, since 1900, two borstal boys have been convicted of the murder of a prison officer. In one case the officer was a matron at a borstal institution. No prisoner has been convicted of the murder of a prison officer since 1900, while six prisoners have been convicted of the murder of a prisoner, three of the same murder, that at Wakefield last year. In the Wakefield case, only one was serving a sentence for murder and none of the others was serving a fixed sentence of seven years or more. Therefore, we can see that in this century the number of second murders and of murders in prison has been extremely small.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

Has the hon. Lady any evidence of the sort of case of a person who has committed several murder before conviction? Have they ever been sent to prison and what happens to them afterwards? Do they commit further murders?

Miss Bacon

I do not have those figures with me, but they are not relevant to the Amendments which we are now discussing and which deal with those who have already been convicted of one murder.

The right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) spoke of prison officers and public servants and said what we all recognise—that prison officers have a very dangerous and unpleasant job to do. One thing which has been encouraging in our prisons in the last few years has been the changing role of the prison officer in our modern penal system. He is no longer just a turnkey who goes around the prison. Over the last few years, prison officers have increasingly become the friends and counsellors of the prisoners, and I know from my recent meeting with the prison officers that they are most anxious to extend that work.

Unfortunately, however, prison officers have to look after a great many vicious and brutal prisoners and these vicious and brutal prisoners are not all murderers. Even if these Amendments were carried, there would still be many vicious and brutal prisoners who had committed vicious and brutal acts falling short of murder, and the prison officers would still have to look after them. If these prisoners were escaping, whether they were murderers or not, they would still use anything to hand, whether there was a death penalty or not, for most of us realise that murder is not rational.

12.45 p.m.

The new prison at Albany, on the Isle of Wight, has been mentioned. It is to be a new kind of security prison which would take long-term prisoners, not only murderers but other specially dangerous prisoners. We hope that inside it will be such as to enable prisoners who have to serve very long periods in prison to lead as viable a life as possible, but we shall have a much greater ratio of staff to prisoners, because the staff will be dealing with the worst sort of prisoner.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me when this prison would be open. It will not be for some time yet. Unfortunately, when building prisons we are always faced with the objections of the people who live in the area, and it always takes us at the Home Office much longer to build prisons than it takes the Ministry of Education to build schools or the Ministry of Health to build hospitals, because while people may like hospitals or schools near to them, they do not like prisons, or approved schools, or borstals, or remand centres. I am pleased to say that in this instance there will not be any official objections to the prison being built on the Isle of Wight, but it will take some time, perhaps two or three years, to build this prison.

In the meantime, the extra number of people who will have to be looked after will be very small. From 1958 to 1963, only 25 people were executed, on average just over four a year, so that even if we have to have, as we shall, interim arrangements before the prison at Albany is built, there will not be any great difficulty.

Figures can be used both ways, by the abolitionists to bolster up their case, or by the retentionists to bolster up theirs. What has happened in other countries where they have had abolition for some years has been mentioned. The figures I have relate to Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, countries whose outlook is very much like ours and who provide better examples than Spain.

In Sweden, there have been no murders by life or long-term prisoners since 1921. In Denmark, there have been no murders by life or long-term prisoners since 1900. In Norway, since 1900, there has been one murder of a prison officer by a prisoner serving a sentence for murder and the prisoner committed suicide immediately afterwards, and there has been one murder by a prisoner not serving a sentence for murder, the victim being someone other than a prison officer. In the Netherlands, there has been one murder by a convicted murderer of a fellow prisoner since 1870.

Surely it will not be argued that the position in this country will be so very much different from those countries of Scandinavia and the Netherlands. Surely it will not be argued that what has happened in Scandinavia is not the kind of thing which will happen here.

Mr. Deedes

That is exactly what the Royal Commission did argue.

Miss Bacon

I am not aware of that passage. This is what has happened in other countries and I would have thought that the outlook of the people of Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands was the same as the outlook of the people of this country.

We have the death penalty for certain types of murder, but let us see what the trend is in other countries. According to The Guardian of 22nd March, many of the States in the United States are getting rid of the death penalty. This report, headed "U.S. trend against death penalty", says: Two more American States have taken steps to abolish the death penalty. It has been abolished in 11 of the 50 States and before the end of the year 12 more are expected to consider taking similar action. Surely at a time when all over the world countries, including America, as I have just shown, are taking steps to abolish the death penalty, we will not argue that it is necessary in Great Britain.

I hope that these two Amendments will not be carried, although everyone on this side of the Committee and, as I know, on the benches opposite, have a free vote. I believe that the majority of people who voted on Second Reading for the abolition of the death penalty and for the Bill did so because they felt, as the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) felt, that they wanted to get rid of this blot on our civilisation and to get rid once and for all of the death penalty and everything to do with execution.

Mr. Peyton

Although the hon. Lady referred, in the closing sentence of her speech, to my views, she has done absolutely nothing to answer them.

Hon. Members


Mr. Deedes

On a point of order, Apropos of what has been said about the order of Amendments, may I say that we will perhaps find ourselves in some difficulty in that the Amendment which is likely to be called next, Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 5, after "murder", insert: except a person who murders a police officer acting in the execution of his duty"— will, as it were, fall between these two Amendments and Amendment No.3, in page 1, line 5, after "murder", insert: except a prisoner who murders a prison officer acting in the execution of his duty". I wonder whether you, Dr. King, would feel able to consider the possibility of making Amendment No.3 Amendment No.2—in other words, of reversing the order—so that we may take the whole subject together. I cannot help feeling that that would be for the convenience of the Committee.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

Further to that point of order. As these Amendments stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends, may I say that I subscribe to the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). If the Chair thought it right—and, as I understand, it is entirely a matter for the Chair and nobody else—I should be content if the question of the murder of a prison officer was not dealt with before the question of the murder of a police officer. If the Chair thought that both matters should be discussed together with two separate divisions and that we should have a wide-ranging debate covering both Amendments, I should have no objection to it.

Mr. Deedes

indicated assent.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I notice from my right hon. Friend's nod that he subscribes to the view which I have just expressed. Either way I would find completely agreeable.

The Chairman

This is rather difficult. I wish that both the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) had considered this matter before the Amendments were placed on the Notice Paper. The Amendments appear in this order because it was the order in which they were received. The Chair is bound strictly to take Amendments as they appear on the, Notice Paper.

The only thing that I can suggest is that the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet takes his Amendment off the Notice Paper and then puts it on again. Otherwise, I cannot move outside the pattern which the Notice Paper lays down for me.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I will leave the matter as it stands. I think that both questions are very closely linked. We can discuss the Amendments in either order. However, this matter has not yet been reached.

Mr. Paget

I realise the difficulty of changing the order of the Notice Paper, but I understood the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) to say that he would be perfectly happy if the two Amendments were discussed together. In that case, Amendments Nos.2 and 3 would be discussed with Amendment No.7, in page 1, line 5, after "murder", insert: except for any murder of a police officer acting in the execution of his duty or of a person assisting a police officer so acting".

Hon. Members


Mr. Paget

Amendment No.7 would be discussed with Amendment No.2. So it would be a case of discussing Amendments Nos.2, 3 and 7 together. There would not be any objection to that, would there?

The Chairman

We will only confuse things if at this stage we suddenly make arrangements for a wide ranging debate.

Sir J. Hobson

Further to the point of order. I hope that no decision will be taken at this stage to discuss Amendments Nos.2 and 3 together. I should have thought that there were substantial differences in them and that it would be of advantage to discuss them separately. I should like to register that view so that it may be considered, although I realise that it is entirely a matter for the Chair to decide.

The Chairman

I think that I have made it clear where the Chair stands.

Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

Serious consideration of the Amendments which we are discussing becomes increasingly difficult if the only rebuttal of them of any substance by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) and the Government is to be reliance on the fact that the House some time ago took a majority decision to abolish capital punishment. If that is to be the sole argument advanced, it is worth considering that the reflection of public opinion in the House and in that vote was rather different from what one would expect.

I am not surprised that some of my hon. Friends are in favour of the abolition of the death penalty. It is very natural that some Members on this side should reflect that point of view, as it is held by some people in the country. I am not surprised, either, that a larger number of my hon. Friends hold different views, because that, also, is a reflection of public opinion.

What I find completely incomprehensible on an allegedly Private Member's Bill is that all hon. Members opposite should be in favour of the abolition of the death penalty, with the exception, perhaps, of one. It seems to me completely incomprehensible that that is a true reflection of public opinion. While I appreciate that we are not here as delegates and that we do not necessarily have to reflect public opinion, I find this a little surprising; I will not put it higher.

It has been said that the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, the promoter of the Bill, was rather contemptuous of those who held views different from his own. Nevertheless, in his speech, he made the point that in his experience and in that of the Royal Commission murderers were, on the whole, very well behaved once they were caught and that while they were in prison they usually did what they were told. He seemed to find it rather gratifying to know that they were such kind and gentle people once they had been caught.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not himself want to be contemptuous of opinions which differ from his. Emphasis on the fact that convicted murderers are well behaved prisoners was highly relevant to an Amendment which was directed to what one would do with prisoners who were not well behaved. This was the whole point.

Sir S. McAdden

I never attempted to dispute the relevance of the argument which the hon. Gentleman was advancing. The arguments which he advances on most subjects are usually relevant. I am simply commenting that he pays tribute to the fact that murderers, while they may be unpleasant people when committing murder, become well behaved once they have been caught. He went on to say that in our prisons there are many people of violent and brutal disposition who have not committed murder, yet.

The rejection of these reasonable Amendments would be a clear incitement to them to commit murder in future if they wanted to do so.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise—

It being One o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, pursuant to Resolution [18th March].

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Wednesday next.

Sitting suspended—

Sitting resumed at 2.30 p.m.—