HC Deb 12 May 1965 vol 712 cc459-87

10.35 a.m.

The Chairman

For the convenience of hon. and right hon. Members, I remind the Committee of the correction made to the duplicated notice giving the provisional selection of Amendments. Hon. Members interested in the next two Amendments should note that Amendment No. 17 will be taken before Amendment No. 14, because what matters in order in Committee is the order of Amendments on the Paper.

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

Would you just say a word about Amendment No. 10, Dr. King? Is it to be called separately or subsequently?

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman may not have been here when it was agreed that Amendment No. 10 should be discussed with Amendment No. 9. It has been taken.

Mr. Rees-Davies

That is what I understood. I understood that it was taken for discussion with the earlier Amendment, and, in the circumstances, I wondered why it appeared on the Paper. But you have satisfied me, Dr. King.

Amendment moved [28th April], In page 1, line 7, leave out "sentenced" and insert: liable at the discretion of the court."—[Sir J. Hobson.]

Amendment negatived.

The Chairman

We come now to Amendment No. 17.

Mr. C. M. Woodhouse (Oxford)

I am grateful to you, Dr. King, for allowing the Amendment in page 1, line 7, at the end to insert: Such a sentence shall be of indefinite duration subject only to the exercise of the prerogative of mercy". to be taken separately from the previous group, because it differs from those Amendments in two respects. In the first place, this is the only Amendment at this point in the Bill which excludes the courts from the decision to release a convicted murderer and leaves the responsibility for determining——

The Chairman

Order. I apologise to the Committee. I had promised that, if necessary, there would be a Division on Amendment No. 11.

Amendment proposed: In page 1, line 7, leave out "life" and insert: a period of not less than 25 years unless a court in its discretion orders otherwise".—[Mr. Rees-Davies.]

Question put, That "life" stand part of the Clause:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 148, Noes 160.

Division No. 106.] AYES [10.37 a.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry Dempsey, James
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury) Diamond, John
Alldritt, Walter Carmichael, Nell Doig, Peter
Armstrong, Ernest Carter-Jones, Lewis Driberg, Tom
Astor, John Chapman, Donald Dunn, James A.
Bacon, Miss Alice Coleman, Donald English, Michael
Barnett, Joel Conlan, Bernard Ensor, David
Baxter, William Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)
Bence, Cyril Cullen, Mrs. Alice Fernyhough, E.
Bishop, E. S. Darling, George Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
Blackburn, F. Davies, Harold (Leek) Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Davies, Ifor (Gower) Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey Ford, Ben
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Dell, Edmund Freeson, Reginald
Galpern, Sir Myer Lipton, Marcus Pentland, Norman
Garrett, W. E. Lomas, Kenneth Perry, Ernest G.
Garrow, A. Longbottom, Charles Prentice, R. E.
Gourlay, Harry Loughlin, Charles Rankin, John
Grey, Charles Lubbock, Eric Rees, Merlyn
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Rhodes, Geoffrey
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) McBride, Neil Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Griffiths, Will (M'chester, Exchange) McCann, J. Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. McGuire, Michael St. John-Stevas, Norman
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) McInnes, James Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Hamilton, William (West Fife) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Silkin, John (Deptford)
Harper, Joseph Mackenzie, Alasdair(Ross&Crom'ty) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Hart, Mrs. Judith Mackie, George Y. (C'ness & S'land) Small, William
Heffer, Eric S. MacMillan, Malcolm Solomons, Henry
Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur MacPherson, Malcolm Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank
Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Swain, Thomas
Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town) Mallalieu,J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.) Swingler, Stephen
Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.) Manuel, Archie Symonds, J. B.
Howie, W. Mapp, Charles Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Hoy, James Maxwell, Robert Tinn, James
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Meyer, Sir Anthony Urwin, T. W.
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Mikardo, Ian Varley, Eric G.
Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline) Millan, Bruce Vickers, Dame Joan
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Miller, Dr. M. S. Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Milne, Edward (Blyth) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Morris, Charles (Openshaw) Warbey, William
Johnson, James(K'ston-on-Hull,W.) Nicholson, Sir Godfrey Watkins, Tudor
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Oakes, Gordon Whitlock, William
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Ogden, Eric Wilkins, W. A.
Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Orme, Stanley Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Jopling, Michael Oswald, Thomas Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Kirk, Peter Paget, R. T. Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Lawson, George Palmer, Arthur Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Ledger, Ron Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S.E.)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Crawshaw and Mr. S. C. Silkin.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Jennings, J. c.
Atkins, Humphrey Emery, Peter Kaberry, Sir Donald
Awdry, Daniel Errington, Sir Eric Kershaw, Anthony
Barber, Rt Hn. Anthony Farr, John Kimball, Marcus
Batsford, Brian Foster, Sir John King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Lagden, Godfrey
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D. Langford-Holt, Sir John
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm) Gibson-Watt, David Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Berry, Hn. Anthony Giles, Rear-Admiral Morgan Loveys, Walter H.
Blaker, Peter Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Lucas, Sir Jocelyn
Bossom, Hn. Clive Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. McAdden, Sir Stephen
Box, Donald Goodhart, Philip MacArthur, Ian
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J. Goodhew, Victor McLaren, Martin
Braine, Bernard Gower, Raymond Maclean, Sir Fitzroy
Brinton, Sir Tatton Grant, Anthony McNair-Wilson, Patrick
Bromley-Davenport,Lt.-Col.Sir Walter Grant-Ferris, R. Maitland, Sir John
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Gresham-Cooke, R. Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Grieve, Percy Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Bullus, Sir Eric Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick) Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Gurden, Harold Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Buxton, R. C. Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Monro, Hector
Campbell, Gordon Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh) Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Channon, H. P. G. Hamilton, M. (Salisbury) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Chichester-Clark, R. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.) Harris, Reader (Heston) Onslow, Cranley
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian
Cooke, Robert Harvle Anderson, Miss Osborne, John (Hallam)
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Hastings, Stephen Page, R. Graham (Crosby)
Courtney, Cdr. Anthony Hawkins, Paul Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver Hay, John Percival, Ian
Cunningham, Sir Knox Heald, Rt. Hn, Sir Lionel Peyton, John
Curran, Charles Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Pickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth
Currie, G. B. H. Hendry, Forbes Pitt, Dame Edith
Dalkeith, Earl of Hiley, Joseph Pounder, Rafton
Dance, James Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Prior, J. M. L.
Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr) Hirst, Geoffrey Pym, Francis
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Hopkins, Alan Quennell, Miss J. M.
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Hordern, Peter Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Doughty, Charles Howard, Hn. G. R. (St. Ives) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec Hunt, John (Bromley) Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin
Drayson, G. B. Hutchison, Michael Clark Rees-Davies, W. R.
Eden, Sir John Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Ridsdale, Julian
Roots, William Temple, John M. Whitelaw, William
Scott-Hopkins, James Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter Wise, A. R.
Sharples, Richard Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Sinclair, Sir George Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H. Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Speir, Sir Rupert Tweedsmuir, Lady Woodnutt, Mark
Stodart, Anthony van Straubenzee, W. R. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John Younger, Hn. George
Studholme, Sir Henry Walder, David (High Peak)
Summers, Sir Spencer Walker, Peter (Worcester) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Ward, Dame Irene Mr Mawby and
Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow,Cathcart) Weatherill, Bernard Sir Rolf Dudley Williams.
Taylor, Frank (Moss Side) Webster, David

Question put, That the proposed words be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 163, Noes 169.

Division No. 107.] AYES [10.47 a.m.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Goodhew, Victor Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Atkins, Humphrey Gower, Raymond Onslow, Cranley
Awdry, Daniel Grant, Anthony Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Grant-Ferris, R. Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian
Batsford, Brian Gresham-Cooke, R. Osborn, John (Hallam)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Grieve, Percy Page, R. Graham (Crosby)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick) Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm) Gurden, Harold Peel, John
Berry, Hn. Anthony Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Percival, Ian
Biggs-Davison, John Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh) Peyton, John
Blaker, Peter Hamilton, M. (Salisbury) Pickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth
Bossom, Hn. Clive Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Pitt, Dame Edith
Box, Donald Harris, Reader (Heston) Pounder, Rafton
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Prior, J. M. L.
Braine, Bernard Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Pym, Francis
Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Brinton, Sir Tatton Harvie Anderson, Miss Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir peter
Bromley-Davenport,Lt-Col. Sir Walter Hastings, Stephen Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hawkins, Paul Rees-Davies W. R.
Bullus, Sir Eric Hay, John Ridsdale, Julian
Butcher, Sir Herbert Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Roots, William
Buxton, R. C. Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Scott-Hopkins, James
Campbell, Gordon Hendry, Forbes Sharples, Richard
Channon, H. P. G. Hiley, Joseph Sinclair, Sir George
Chichester-Clark, R. Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Speir, Sir Rupert
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.) Hirst, Geoffrey Stainton, Keith
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Hopkins, Alan Stodart Anthony
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Hordern, Peter Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Cooke, Robert Howard, Hn. G. R. (St. Ives) Studholme, Sir Henry
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Hunt, John (Bromley) Summers, Sir Spencer
Cordle, John Hutchison, Michael Clark Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Courtney, Cdr. Anthony Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow,Cathcart)
Cunningham, Sir Knox Jennings, J. C. Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Curran, Charles Kaberry, Sir Donald Temple, John M.
Currie, G. B. H. Kershaw, Anthony Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter
Dalkeith, Earl of Kimball, Marcus Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
Dance, James King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr) Lagden, Godfrey Tweedsmuir, Lady
Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Van Straubenzee, W. R.
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Loveys, Walter H. Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Doughty, Charles Lucas, Sir Jocelyn Walder, David (High Peak)
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hon. Sir Alec McAdden, Sir Stephen Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Drayson, G. B. MacArthur, Ian Ward, Dame Irene
Eden, Sir John McLaren, Martin Weatherill, Bernard
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Maclean, Sir Fltzroy Webster, David
Emery, Peter McNair-Wilson, Patrick Whitelaw, William
Errington, Sir Eric Maitland, Sir John Wise, A. R.
Farr, John Maude, Angus Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Foster, Sir John Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D. Mills, Peter (Torrington) Woodnutt, Mark
Gibson-Watt, David Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Giles, Rear-Admiral Morgan Monro, Hector Younger, Hn. George
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) More, Jasper
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Morrison, Charles (Devizes) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Goodhart, Philip Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Mr. Mawby and
Sir Rolf Dudley Williams.
Abse, Lee Armstrong, Ernest Bishop, E. S.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Astor, John Blackburn, F.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Bacon, Miss Alice Blenkinsop, Arthur
Alldritt, Walter Barnett, Joel Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S.W.)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Oakes, Gordon
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.) Ogden, Eric
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Howie, W. Orme, Stanley
Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry Hoy, James Oswald, Thomas
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Paget, R. T.
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Palmer, Arthur
Carmichael, Neil Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline) Panneil, Rt. Hn. Charles
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hynd, H. (Accrington) Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S.E.)
Chapman, Donald Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Pavitt, Laurence
Coleman, Donald Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Conlan, Bernard Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Pentland, Norman
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Perry, Ernest G.
Darling, George Johnson,James(K'ston-on-Hull,W.) Rankin, John
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Rees, Merlyn
Davies, Harold (Leek) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Rhodes, Geoffrey
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey Jopling, Michael Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Dell, Edmund Kelley, Richard St. John-Stevas, Norman
Dempsey, James Kirk, Peter Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Diamond, John Lawson, George Short,Rt.Hn.E.(N'c'tle-on-Tyne,C.)
Dodds, Norman Ledger, Ron Silkin, John (Deptford)
Doig, Peter Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Donnelly, Desmond Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Skeffington, Arthur
Driberg, Tom Lipton, Marcus Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Dunn, James A. Lomas, Kenneth Small, William
English, Michael Longbottom, Charles
Ensor, David Loughlin, Charles Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank
Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley) Lubbock, Eric Steel, Davltl (Roxburgh)
Fernyhough, E. Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Swain, Thomas
Finch, Harold (Bedwellty) McBride, Neil Swingler, Stephen
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) MacCann, J. Symonds, J. B.
Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich) McGuire, Michael Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Ford, Ben Mackenzie, Alasdair(Ross&Crom'ty) Thornton, Ernest
Freeson, Reginald Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Tinn, James
Garrett, W. E. Mackie, George Y. (C'ness & S'land) Urwin, T. W.
Garrow, A. Mackie, John (Enfield, E.) Varley, Eric G.
Gourlay, Harry MacPherson, Malcolm Vickers, Dame Joan
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Grey, Charles Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mallallieu, E. L. (Brigg) Warbey, William
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Mallallieu,J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.) Watkins, Tudor
Griffiths, Will (M'chester, Exchange) Manuel, Archie Whitlock, William
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Mapp, Charles Wilkins, W. A.
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Maxwell, Robert Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Hamilton, William (West Fife) Meyer, Sir Anthony Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Hannan, William Mikardo, Ian Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Harper, Joseph Miller, Dr. M. S. Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Milne, Edward (Blyth) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Hart, Mrs. Judith Morris, Charles (Openshaw) Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Heffer, Eric S. Newens, Stan
Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur Nicholson, Sir Godfrey TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Crawshaw and Mr. S. C. Silkin.
Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again. I do so in order to ask the Home Secretary at this stage whether he would like to indicate to the House his intentions. It appears to me, in the light of the two decisions that the Committee has just taken, that there will be a hole in the Bill. I am not now arguing abolition or any other case, but the sentencing side has always been a major weakness of the Bill. If carried, this Amendment would have laid down a fixed period and placed upon the court the obligation of altering that period. The sponsors of the Bill, or the Home Secretary if he is taking any responsibility, should now give some indication as to what he proposes in the light of the voting this morning.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Frank Soskice)

I should like to oppose this Motion and, in giving my reasons, state what, as far as I can see, is the effect of the two votes we have just had. If the votes are given effect, then Clause 1(1) will read: No person shall suffer death for murder, and a person guilty of murder shall, subject to subsection (4) below, be sentenced to imprisonment. That must mean, I should have thought, imprisonment for an indefinite period. It can mean nothing else. At any rate, according to the arguments of opponents of the Bill, it is almost exactly the same as the words "imprisonment for life". They were objecting to the words "imprisonment for life" precisely on that ground. We can certainly proceed in our discussion of the Bill which would now read: shall, subject to subsection (4) below, be sentenced to imprisonment.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Are not the words left in "imprisonment for" and not just "imprisonment"?

11.0 a.m.

Sir F. Soskice

Upon the principle—if I may quote a Latin tag with which the hon. Gentleman will be very familiar—"ut omnia magis valeant quam pereant"—[Laughter.]

The Chairman

It was a tradition in Macaulay's time that Latin quotations in the House were common but in these modern days I should be grateful if the Home Secretary would translate his Latin for the benefit of the Committee.

Sir F. Soskice

I will certainly do my best. The text of a Bill or document or any other written legal material is, so far as possible, construed in such a way as to give it meaning.

Mr. Graham Page rose——

Sir F. Soskice

May I complete my submission to the Committee, with which the Committee may or may not agree? If the text in question now reads shall, subject to subsection (4) below, be sentenced to imprisonment for and there is then an expressive absence of elucidation, I should have thought that, giving effect to that well-known Latin maxim, the only way in which one can make this mean something would be, as it were, to insert a dash after the word "for," with precisely the same result as I indicated. In other words, the Clause could mean only that a man guilty of murder shall be sentenced to imprisonment for an indefinite period.

Mr. Graham Page rose——

Sir F. Soskice

That is the only thing it can mean and I would oppose the Motion on that basis.

Mr. Graham Page rose——

The Chairman

I hope that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) will not keep interrupting when the Home Secretary is trying to explain.

Mr. Graham Page

I believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave way to me on this occasion.

The Chairman

I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had sat down because I rose.

Mr. Graham Page

The Home Secretary knows perfectly well that one cannot plead de minimis about words in a statement which when translated mean that there is a hole in the bucket.

Mr. Rees-Davies

If we may take this matter a stage further, it is singularly appropriate that what has happened to the Bill is that "life" has been taken out of it. Many of us appreciated that fact earlier. Once "life" has been taken out of the sentence, the Bill has been executed, which is singularly appropriate. Not only has the Bill been executed, but we have removed from it the only sentence contained in any part of it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has rightly pointed out, we are therefore left with the statement that the sentence shall be a "sentence of," so that we are now—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sentenced for."]—"sentenced for," so that the Bill is now in a state of animated suspension. Nothing is prescribed.

It is clear from past procedure that now that the Bill is a nonsense, the only proper course to pursue is to report Progress and to ask the sponsors of the Bill to take it away and to consider it in the light of the findings of the Committee about what should be put in the place of the expression which we have taken out.

It so happens that, although we have always believed that in fact he was, the Home Secretary is not the sponsor of the Bill, which is supposed to be a Private Member's Bill, although we have always recognised that the Government have been giving it very careful consideration. As we have taken out "life" and a sentence of imprisonment for life no longer applies, what is the sentence to be? It is clearly not to be for a period of 25 years, unless the court in its wisdom otherwise decrees, as was suggested by the Amendment, because the Committee by a majority of 169 to 163 has decreed otherwise.

There is an Amendment which now becomes extremely relevant but which you did not call at the time, Dr. King. It stands in the names of myself and some of my hon. Friends and it provides an alternative form of imprisonment. It is in page 1, line 7, leave out "sentenced to imprisonment for life" and insert: imprisoned for such period as the court may direct and shall not be released by the Secretary of State pursuant to the provisions contained in the Prisons Act 1952 before the expiration of such period except with the leave of the court".

The Chairman

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but we cannot go back on the Amendment paper.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I am not suggesting that we should. What I am suggesting is that that is one of a number of alternatives and that later there are others which you have selected for debate. I would not dream of transgressing into any discussion of Amendments which may come later, but we have now reached a point when the Committee has decided that a prisoner who has been convicted of murder shall receive a sentence, but we do not have the remotest idea of what that sentence is to be, save that it will be a sentence of "imprisonment for". We have now to consider what that shall be and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) will need to consider it very carefully.

The matter is taken a stage further because of the speeches of the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) last week. Both of them have indicated a preference for the abolition of the death penalty, but have none the less put forward arguments as to various alternatives which could properly be provided.

I now turn to a very serious matter. By now it must be recognised that whether one is in favour of abolition or not, and personally I am a retentionist, the whole Committee wants to try to find some sensible alternative to the death penalty. The speeches of our last two sittings and the Divisions this morning show that abolitionists and retentionists alike are not satisfied with the Bill merely providing for imprisonment for life. There are many hon. Members on this side of the Committee who are favourably disposed on the general issue of the Bill, but who take the view that some sensible alternative to imprisonment for life must be found.

If the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and the Government are not prepared to accept Amendments such as mine and that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner), I ask them to take the Bill away now and carefully consider what proper alternative they can suggest. It cannot be said that the Conservative Benches have not offered a great variety of alternatives of various kinds. Yet others are coming up for discussion.

I am certain that if we are ever to get through the business of the Bill—and it will be seen how many of my hon. Friends are here today to attend this debate after some six weeks already in which discussion has continued on the Floor of the House of Commons on Wednesday mornings, predominantly Members who would like to be elsewhere, many of us professional men who normally conduct other business in the mornings, but who are none the less here—the course which I have suggested will have to be adopted. That is because these benches reflect the mood of the nation at present.

We are not going to be bulldozed by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and other hon. Members opposite who want us to fight this out as if it were a sort of very long cricket match. We will go on week after week if necessary. But here is a good opportunity for the Home Secretary and his colleagues, and for the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, to take the Bill away and come back with an adequate compromise, in the form of an alternative sentence. After having given the matter careful consideration, he can put down a sensible Amendment, which can be properly considered.

It is clear that that cannot be done this morning. Therefore, the only thing to do now is to report Progress. If we do not do that, we shall be discussing this matter all morning in any case. It would be very much better to report Progress and then come forward with a proper Amendment, balancing the powers of the court on the one hand with the administrative duties of the Home Secretary on the other, in a fair compromise. If such a sensible Amendment is brought forward by the hon. Member, although we shall still fight against him, he may one day get his Bill. We spent many days in Parliament on this subject in 1956 and 1957. The hon. Gentleman's Bill has had a Second Reading; it has been in Committee upstairs and it is now in Committee on the Floor of the House. He has one day to get it through another place. In those circumstances, I beg him to pay attention to what has been said and to put forward a sensible alternative, with the Home Secretary, which would meet the feelings of hon. Members on this side of the Committee.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Originally the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) asked the sponsors of the Bill to indicate what they proposed to do. He addressed his questions specifically to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. My right hon. and learned Friend is not the sponsor of the Bill; I am. The right hon. Gentleman's question was put to the wrong addressee.

I do not accept the view of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) that the Committee has decided that there must be some alternative, sensible or otherwise, to the proposal in the Bill. The Committee has decided not to have a life sentence. It has certainly also decided not to have a 25-year sentence. There are other Amendments on the Order Paper. The hon. Member has talked about sensible alternatives. Presumably, when he moved an Amendment relating to the sentence he thought that this was a sensible alternative—but he did not move Amendment No. 11; he put his name first to Amendment No. 10, which leaves out sentenced to imprisonment for life and inserts imprisoned for such period as the court may direct and shall not be released by the Secretary of State pursuant to the provisions contained in the Prisons Act, 1952 before the expiration of such period except with the leave of the court. He put that Amendment on the Order Paper, presumably thinking that it was a sensible alternative to the one proposed in the Bill. Why was not he here to vote on it——

The Chairman

Order. We are debating whether or not to report Progress and ask leave to sit again. We have dealt with Amendment No. 10.

Mr. Silverman

I am not suggesting that the hon. Member could do anything about that now, but I am entitled to reflect upon it when testing the sincerity of the speech that he has addressed to the Committee. When the hon. Member says that the present position which the Committee has reached is a meaningless one, and that there should be a sensible alternative, I am entitled to point out that there are half a dozen alternatives on the Order Paper and that when the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to ask the Committee to decide on the one which he favours he did not avail himself of that opportunity.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The hon. Member is quite incorrect. Amendment No. 10 was not selected for a vote. Secondly, I was here on the last occasion; indeed, I was bobbing up and down and trying to get in on the discussion between 12 o'clock and 1 o'clock last Wednesday. I was not called, for the reason that other excellent speakers on this side of the Committee were called first. I did not pursue my argument this morning because we took a vote on the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner), and because I hoped that—my Amendment not having been debated and discussed—it would receive the attention of the Home Office, together with a later Amendment in my name. When we reach that later Amendment I shall explain why I believe it to be a better Amendment than Amendment No. 10.

Mr. Silverman

I have heard all that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] The point is that I do not accept the argument that the Committee has reached any deliberate——

The Chairman

Order. Before we leave that point I should say that this is quite a simple matter. The hon. Member for Nelson and Collie (Mr. Sydney Silverman) charged the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) with not being present for the discussion of an Amendment. The hon. Member said that he was present. I hope that in those circumstances the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne will withdraw his charge.

Mr. Silverman

As a result of a manoeuvre which the opponents of the Bill had not sufficient—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—had not sufficient courage or strength to complete——

The Chairman

Order. I hope that the hon. Member will help me. This is a very small point of courtesy. The hon. Member has charged the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet with not being here. The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet said that he was here. It is customary for one hon. Member to accept another hon. Member's word, in such circumstances.

Mr. Silverman

I am merely expressing my opinion that this was a manoeuvre—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—I am entitled to say that it was a manoeuvre—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—arranged, just as—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—I can wait. It was arranged, just as the original transfer of the Bill to a Committee of the whole House was arranged. I recognise that the position which has been created—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—I recognise that the position which has been created—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

On a point of order. When the Chair invites an hon. Member to withdraw a remark, Dr. King, is it not customary for the hon. Member to withdraw it forthwith, without any further discussion?

The Chairman

I have pointed out to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne twice—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name him."] Order. I have pointed out that this is customary, and that it is one of the courtesies of the House, if one hon. Member has questioned a matter of fact and if an hon. Member has explained the real facts, for the hon. Member who has raised the question to withdraw his remark. I am sure that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne will make a contribution to the good feeling of the Committee, and he will have his own argument to follow, if he accepts the word of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet.

Mr. Silverman

I recognise that a nonsensical situation has been created—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name him."]—a nonsensical situation has been created—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name him."]—and I recognise that the Committee must deal with it.

The Chairman

Order. I hope that hon. Members who are inviting me to name the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne will not persist. My job is to attempt to guide the Committee in matters of courtesy. If the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne does not accept my advice on a matter of courtesy, although it is regrettable, I must leave it at that.

Mr. Rees Davies rose——

Mr. Silverman rose——

The Chairman


Mr. Silverman

I felt that I ought to acknowledge that the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet was not in his place and, therefore, could not have done any of the things I complained of him for not doing. In so far as what I said in that respect was in any way offensive to him, I am very happy to withdraw and I do withdraw. I had not understood that was the complaint being made, or I would have withdrawn it long ago.

All I am saying is that a nonsensical position has been produced. We have decided to take out the word "life" and not put in a fixed period. We have left free the words "imprisonment for" without defining them in any way. This, obviously, is a completely nonsensical situation. Whether the Committee reached that position deliberately or not, it will certainly have to decide what it shall do about the position. So that the Committee shall decide what it shall do we need a little time. This is quite plain.

I have no idea that we can decide it here and now on the spur of the moment, or in any spontaneous way of that kind. I think it very unfortunate that this should have happened. It reflects no credit on Parliament. It reflects no credit on the opponents of the Bill. All the same, in the circumstances which we have reached, I beg to move that, The Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

The Chairman

Order. On a matter of order, it has already been moved, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again. I gather that the hon. Gentleman is supporting the Motion.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

The reasons which were advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees Davies) seemed to me to be appealing reasons why we should report Progress and, for the first time in the proceedings I find myself speaking in the same sense as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman). He observed that we are now in a wholly nonsensical position. A number of hon. Members who have been taking part in our proceedings believe that we are now at the most important part of the Bill. Some of us have stressed from the start of these discussions that the proper action to be taken by the Home Secretary—not by the sponsor of the Bill—to replace what would go if this Bill became law would be one of the most serious matters imaginable to come before us in this sphere of legislation. We have said that on repeated occasions. Now, as we approach the critical stage of our discussions, we find ourselves with a Bill which has been amended in this curious form.

I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary, despite what he said at the Dispatch Box, realises that there could be no coherent or serious discussion by the Committee about what should be the alternative. I think this regrettable and I must add that this confusion has arisen once again because it has been seen fit to afford the proceedings on the Bill second-class status. This should never have occurred. The haphazard arrangements regarding the Bill this morning is the responsibility of those who chose this method to consider the Bill. That is why we are in a state of confusion and why I think that those of us who said some time ago that this was not the appropriate way to deal with a Measure of this kind have now been proved right.

This is the second occasion upon which delay has been imposed, largely by the choice of machinery. I think that it would be wholly inappropriate that a subject of this importance—in the country it is regarded as of very great importance indeed—should continue to be discussed after Clause 1(1) has been reduced to the state in which it now is. I must not anticipate what Amendments might have been called—there is an Amendment in my name—but nothing that I could say in support of Amendments which are to come would make any sense at all in relation to the Bill as it has been left by the decision of the Committee.

I therefore support what my hon. Friend has said and, for once, what has been said by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. I hope that the Committee will report Progress. I hope that during the interval which will now arise the Home Secretary will give very careful consideration to the form in which he thinks that the Bill should return to the Committee.

There is always the danger—it is really what has happened this morning—that towards the conclusion of proceedings on a Measure such as this, which has occupied a great deal of time, there is a temptation to—I will not say get a little careless—to get a little superficial. There are hon. Members who feel that the Bill has been virtually passed into law and the Amendments now under consideration are something to be disposed of rather than discussed seriously. That is a most mistaken assumption. We are indeed at a point of crisis regarding the Bill.

I hope that the Home Secretary will not regard this as a waste of time. He, and indeed all hon. Members can use the interval to reconsider some of the arguments advanced at the last sitting of the Committee, and arguments which have been advanced this morning, and realise that hon. Members and the public regard the alternative which would be provided if the Bill became law as a matter of the utmost seriousness, and something which is not to be dismissed superficially. I hope that the Home Secretary may be able to give us more guidance.

Several Hon. Members rose——

The Chairman

Order. Before I call the next speaker, may I point out that it seems to be the opinion of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that we should report Progress and ask leave to it again. Mr. Yates.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

I have not had an opportunity to express a point of view since the Committee stage deliberations on the Bill have been in progress. I must point out that, like other hon. Members who happen to be interested in the abolition of the death penalty, I have received many complaints from my constituents about the way in which the discussions on the Bill have proceeded. I think it perfectly reasonable that I should now ask the Committee to support the Motion and that I should go even further, and say that I think the time has come when the Government should take responsibility for the Bill. It is far too important a social Measure.

However much one admires the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) for his work in the past, I think that a Measure of this nature, which cuts across the whole field of criminal law and penology, should be the responsibility of the Government. Surely the Government must realise that the Bill should be withdrawn and that they should bring forward their own Bill. It has been stated that the abolition of the death penalty was the policy of the Labour Party and it was indicated in the Gracious Speech that they were interested in obtaining this Bill. What now stops them from being in charge, honourably and responsibly, of a great social Measure?

I and many of my constituents are open-minded about the form of punishment or penalty. We are not experts, but we think that the Government have all the expert advice possible. I believe the time has come when the Government should thank the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne for the valuable work he has done and should take responsibility for a Bill of their own and bring it in during the next Session of Parliament, in the proper way. In that fashion I think that they would mitigate the ridiculous situation in which the Committee is at present.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

I agree that we must reconsider this situation. I also agree with the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that we have come to what is an important part of the Bill, and the part which many people wish to have seriously considered.

These are the Amendments which many people wanted to have serious consideration. I wish to protest at the frivolity of this morning's performance. This is a serious matter, and for hon. Members opposite to try schoolboy tricks to get a snap Division, knowing perfectly well that they had no real majority for it, to play a game of that sort on a serious matter, does no credit to the House——

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

Committee counted, and, 40 Members being present

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Paget

I hope also, that hon. Members opposite are proud of that performance. They come here and say that this is a serious matter in which the whole country is interested——

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

A former member of Her Majesty's Government should not behave in that way.

Mr. Paget

—and the next thing they do is to propose a Motion that we should reconsider the matter. Many Members who supported the Motion proceeded to run out when a Count was called, showing thereby their total ignorance of the procedure. They are counted whether they run out or not.

Nevertheless, this kind of frivolity and absurdity does very little credit to hon. Members opposite or to the Committee. We have to reconsider this matter. My view is that, on Report stage, we shall simply put back the words which were frivolously deleted. That is the established procedure which has worked, I should have thought, to the satisfaction of everybody for the vast majority of murders for a very long time. To that vast majority of murders, this Bill will add three or four a year to a procedure which has already worked for the great majority. That is what I presume will happen. We have wasted a good deal of time on this.

Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I am impelled to support the Motion by the cool cheek of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) who wanders into our debates when he knows perfectly well that only a handful of his supporters are behind him and, after only a handful of hon. Members have taken part in the discussion, promptly proceeds to move the Closure. If this is not playing schoolboy tricks, an attempt to stifle discussion and frivolity, I do not know what is. I think that it is an outsize piece of cheek for him to try to lecture the Committee as to how it should behave on the discussion of this matter.

Few hon. Members opposite attended our debate last week; apparently they were at a party meeting upstairs. We are told that they are at another today. If they are more interested in their party squabbles upstairs, this is the kind of frivolity which deserves condemning far more than what the hon. and learned Member complains about.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I join in the discussion for a few moments as one of the minority on these benches who voted with the minority on the first of the Divisions this morning, and with the narrow majority on the second. I was not the only one on these benches. I think that it will be seen, when the HANSARD lists are published, that about 10 hon. Members on these benches who have given much attention to the subject of the Amendment under discussion voted on the same side as—I think—all hon. Members of the party opposite.

I think that the accusations of frivolity which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has advanced are perhaps a little harsh. What happened was that a discussion on the Amendments started two sittings ago. There was a long speech then from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir John Hobson) and we then had a full discussion throughout last Wednesday's sitting.

At the end of the proceedings, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) was addressing the Committee. I had the impression that he did not intend to make a very long speech. It was clear that we were to have a vote very near the start of this morning's proceedings. If we have de- bates in Committee of the whole House between 10.30 a.m. and 1.0 p.m., hon. Members on both sides must be prepared for a vote at the start of proceedings. Maybe hon. Members expected, as I did, that a vote would come 10 minutes later than it did, but I had expected to vote very much at the start of our proceedings this morning. I think that all hon. Members must have expected that to happen.

I think that we have this morning reached a somewhat unfortunate decision, from the point of view of the progress of the Bill, in voting one way on one Amendment and then the other way on another. This first experiment in sittings of Committee of the whole House in the morning has not turned out very happily so far. This is the sort of difficulty into which we must, I think, inevitably fall when we decide to have sittings in the mornings.

Mr. Paget

The point which I was making was not that a Division was not expected early this morning—of course it was—but that it was expected upon the Amendment which we were then discussing. The hon. and learned Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) was expected to continue his speech. That would have meant—as our side was warned—that there would be a Division fairly early. The trick was that there was no Division claimed on that one and a Division was then promptly claimed on the one on which there could be no debate. I think that that is a piece of trickery.

Sir E. Boyle

I will not weary the Committee; I have only one more thing to say. I must dissent from the view of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton about this word "trick". It became quite clear that a Division on the important subject which we have been discussing would take place early this morning. Some of my hon. Friends and I had reached this conclusion and we arrived here in good time, knowing that this Division could take place at any time. If we have morning sittings in Committee of the whole House, I think that hon. Members must expect Divisions sometimes to take place a little sooner than they have been expecting and must be prepared for them.

In this discussion on what is possibly the most important set of Amendments in the Bill, I think that, after the Second Reading, most hon. Members expected that the Divisions on what I call the special categories would go the way that they did. Here we are discussing a real point of substance, on which strong views were expressed. I feel differently from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). I put my view last time, on much the same side as that of the Home Secretary. This is a very important issue. I consider that the House and the Committee must come to a firm conclusion on it before the Bill goes to another place.

I hope that I will not be out of order in saying that while I do not agree with the strictures and complaints which have been made about some unfair use of Parliamentary procedure, or a trick, nevertheless, I have not altered my view that those who support the Bill should stick to their guns on the principle which we have been discussing. On that point, I still feel as strongly as I did when I spoke last time.

The Chairman

Mr. Ogden.

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

On a point of order, Dr. King——

The Chairman

I called Mr. Ogden.

Miss Bacon

On a point of order, Dr. King. I think that it is only fair to point out to you that there seems to be some doubt whether the Division bells rang in some offices and Ministries. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, they did not ring. One of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members have said that the first bell did not ring. I think that we really ought to take this into consideration when discussing the matter.

Mr. Thorneycroft

Further to the point of order, Dr. King. May I suggest to Ministers that they should have taken the precaution of switching on their Division bells?

The Chairman

That was not further to the point of order. On the point of order raised by the hon. Lady, it is too late now to affect the result of the Division. I will certainly inquire into the complaint that she has made. Mr. Ogden.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

On that point of order, Dr. King. You say that it is too late now to question any result of any failure of the Division bells to ring in private places, but is it not fair to point out that this complaint has been made from both sides of the Committee several times during the course of this Committee stage? The complaint has not only come from one side this morning. It has come from the other side, perfectly correctly, on previous occasions when the result of a Division has been challenged on the ground that the proper preliminaries to calling a Division had not been gone through. If we are getting into that position and leaving important Bills to be messed about both ways in this fashion merely because we cannot arrange for the bells to ring in the right places at the right time, surely there is something that the House ought to look into.

Mr. Thorneycroft

Further to that point of order——

The Chairman

Order. Perhaps I can deal, first, with the point of order which has been raised. I will listen to the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) in a moment.

I remember the circumstances to which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) refers. I refused to rule on or to deal at that time with a hypothetical complaint. I undertook to satisfy myself of the truth or otherwise of the allegations that the bells did not ring. On that occasion the complaints, I understand, were utterly without foundation. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are now."] Mr. Thorneycroft.

Mr. Thorneycroft

Further to that point of order, Dr. King. If I understood the complaint of the hon. Lady, it was that the bells inside the Ministries had not rung. It referred to bells inside the Ministries, not bells in the House of Commons. I am astonished that that complaint should come from the Government Front Bench. After all, it was the Government's proposal that we should sit here on Wednesday mornings in order to hold the Committee stage of the Bill. For them to stroll down to the House of Commons and say that they have been inconvenienced in their work, and that they cannot possibly sit here like the rest of us, is a most astonishing proposition. If they cannot organise their Ministries so that the Division bells ring, no wonder we are in something of a difficulty with the Bill.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Thomas)

Further to the point of order, Dr. King. I was in the Home Office this morning, engaged on my work, and I know of Ministerial colleagues of mine who were in other Departments. We have had inquiries made. The first bell did not ring. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is not a question of our convenience. When right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were on this side they expected and received the same consideration, that Division bells should ring in the Government Departments so that Ministers could come to cast their votes in the House. I should be very grateful, Dr. King, if you would put inquiries into motion, because undoubtedly the vote this morning was influenced by the failure of the bells to ring.

Several Hon. Members rose——

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken was addressing me on a point of order.

Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)

I wish to address you on the same point, Dr. King.

The Chairman

I will deal with one at a time. I will hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) in due course.

Perhaps I might say to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and to the Committee that I take no light view of the charge that the machinery for enabling right hon. and hon. Members to perform their Parliamentary duties officially has failed to work. I have undertaken to examine the complaint that was made, and I am sure that the servants of the House will take note of the remarks that have been made. I observed, however—this is a matter of simple fact, and I owe it in justice to the servants of the House to say this—that when the complaint was made some weeks ago in this Committee it was investigated and was found to be without foundation. Sir Kenneth Pickthorn.

11.45 a.m.

Sir K. Pickthorn

Further to the point of order, Dr. King. I did not wish to interrupt the case that was being put by the hon. Gentleman, who is now in- terested in something else. The point that I wished to put was this. Is it riot upon the facts as stated primarily a matter to be dealt with from the other end? Suppose a Division bell failed to ring in an hon. Member's private house, or anywhere else that he might think it convenient to him. Would it be the business of a Minister to come to this House and question the validity of a Division which had been taken? Is it not, as a matter of order, entirely a question for decision outside the House until the point at which it becomes clear that there has been a breakdown of communication within the technical management of the servants of the House? Before that, is this not wholly out of order?

The Chairman

Order. I have already ruled on the issues which the right hon. Gentleman has just raised, that whatever happened has not affected the validity of the Division. That is over. It is my duty, as a servant of the House, to see that complaints of such a serious nature as this are investigated, and I undertook to do so. I think that that is the end of it so far as order is concerned. Mr. Ogden.

Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

Further to the point of order, Dr. King. I am sorry, but are we not getting into rather a dangerous position? Is it not a fact that the ringing of bells and other indications that there will be a Division are a courtesy extended to hon. Members? Is it not always assumed that every hon. Member should be in the House at the time he is needed to cast his vote? It has never been ruled by you, Dr. King, or anybody else, that proceedings are out of order if the means of communication, which, as I have said, are only a form of courtesy, break down. It would mean that if the bell system broke down completely we could have no Divisions. I suggest that we are getting into a dangerous position.

The Chairman

I should have thought that the hon. Member would have understood what I had said. He is an old Parliamentarian. I had already ruled in the direction in which he is arguing. That has gone now. I would only say that the ringing of Division bells is a matter of so long-established courtesy that it has almost become part of the order of the House. Mr. Ogden.

Mr. Thorneycroft

Further to the point of order, Dr. King. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am sorry, but this raises an important matter. I would ask that it should be made absolutely plain that a Division bell in a Ministry is in no different category from a Division bell in a private house—none whatever. We ought to be absolutely clear that if an hon. Member came to the House and started complaining that he had been at dinner, and his Division bell had not rung, suggesting that that was something which invalidated a Division, it would be a most astonishing proposal to put to the House of Commons. That is, in effect, what a junior Minister at the Home Office has chosen to do. It should be made absolutely plain that the ringing of bells in Ministries and private houses is nothing to do with the business of the House. It is only the electronic arrangements in our Committee with which we should be concerned.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

Further to the point of order, Dr. King. I put this forward to help you. The Under Secretary of State for the Home Department said that the first bell did not ring. The first bell went when Mr. Speaker was at Prayers, at 10.30 a.m. The second one went at 10.35 a.m., when he was in the Chair. Therefore, what probably happened was that those concerned were a little late in switching the bells on. Perhaps the bell was first heard at 10.32 a.m. and then the bell was heard for a second time after an interval of about five minutes and the hon. Member thought that that was the first bell.

Several Hon. Members rose——

The Chairman

Order. I think that at the moment the Committee is engaged in the fruitless task of pursuing all kinds of hypothetical questions. I am not prepared to rule on either hypothetics or on the extent and range of the bells in Ministries or private homes. I have undertaken to see that the complaints will be investigated and I hope that the Committee will now return to the Question being discussed, which is to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

This is the first time that I have tried to take part in the debate and I suggest that what is happening this morning is symptomatic of the concern of some hon. Members about the way in which this matter is progressing. For eight minutes the Committee has been debating not the abolition or retention of capital punishment, but whether certain bells have been ringing in certain places. We have moved well away from the subject we are supposed to be discussing and in my opinion this is a charade and not a debate on capital punishment. I do not say that it is a frivolous charade, as was suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), but it is, nevertheless, very much a charade, particularly when we remember that we are discussing a matter of life and death.

I appeal to the Committee, particularly to back benchers, to agree with me that the debate is becoming a debate between lawyers. We are leaving the broad issues and a number of hon. Members are trying to make party and other points, even to the stage of trying to prove who is the best lawyer and who can interpret a provision in one way or another. I hope——

The Chairman

Order. I hope that the hon. Member will address himself to the Question.

Sir G. Nicholson

On a point of order. Would you consider it desirable, Dr. King, that we now reach a decision? Since there seems to be complete unanimity in the Committee, would you accept a Motion to come to a decision?

The Chairman

I indicated my view on this matter quite a long time ago. I accept the Motion.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again, put accordingly and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Wednesday next.

Sitting resumed at 2.30 p.m.