HL Deb 24 February 1885 vol 294 cc1146-8

said, he rose to call attention to the mismanagement attending a recent attempt at the infliction of capital punishment; and to ask, Whether it is not now the opinion of Her Majesty's Government that there should be a public executioner for the whole of the United Kingdom, appointed and removable by one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State f The attention of all must have been attracted by a piece of great mismanagement on the part of the executioner at Exeter. He would not enter into details; but he thought that it was natural that he should take the present opportunity of once more bringing the matter forward. In this case, after repeated failures to hang him, the prisoner had been respited, which, perhaps, made the matter less horrible than it would otherwise have been. Although, the alternative of respiting a man who had committed murder in a most aggra- vated form was, no doubt, a difficult one to choose, he could feel that the Home Secretary had been placed in a position of great difficulty, and of two evils had chosen the lesser. He did not wish to prejudge the matter, into which, no doubt, an inquiry would be made; but they could hardly think that the Sheriff could be blamed, or the Under Sheriff. As to the hangman, there was realty no such office; a man was only deputed for the occasion, and then disappeared. The Sheriff's duty was to see the sentence carried out, and he had to find anyone that he could. As a general rule, it was true, the same man was employed by the different Sheriffs in the different counties. What he wished, however, was that there should be one man for the whole country, and that he should be under the Homo Office and responsible to the Home Secretary. When he had brought forward this matter last year, ho had been mot by two objections. In the first place, ho had been asked why it was likely that the Home Secretary would make a better selection than the Sheriffs? In answer to that, he maintained that it would be easier to get a good man for a permanent place of, say, £200 or £300 a-year. Then another objection was that they could not expect to get a good man for the performance of such disgusting operations. But upon the last vacancy there had been no less than 800 applications, and it would surely be easy to get a man who could perform his duty out of so many. He might say, in passing, that there was such a general idea that it was a Crown office that the greater number of these 800 applicants had sent in their applications to the Homo Secretary. He was himself in favour of capital punishment, and thought that it was absolutely necessary in order to put a stop to murder; but no criminal ought to be unnecessarily tortured. If, however, they were to have occurrences like this, it would be difficult to retain it. The noble Earl concluded by asking the Question of which he had given Notice.


said, he was sorry that his noble Friend (the Earl of Dalhousie), who represented the Home Office in that House, was absent through ill health, and therefore not able to answer the Question. When the noble Earl (Earl Cowper) had brought this matter forward on the last occasion, he had rested his arguments on the fact that the executioner was not a competent man in his profession, and that he was also not in a very sober state at the time of the execution. The unfortunate case which occurred yesterday morning at Exeter rested upon altogether different grounds. He would not go into that matter now, because it must be inquired into by direction of the Secretary of State. What he had now to state was that the Secretary of State yesterday took steps to have a strict investigation made into all the facts, and it was not yet quite clear that the fault of what happened yesterday morning lay with the executioner.