HL Deb 14 March 1950 vol 166 cc189-92

My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government whether their attention has been drawn to the remarks of the Lord Chief Justice at a recent trial, whether the returns indicate that there has been an increase in violent crime since the abolition of corporal punishment and whether they will consider the reimposition of corporal punishment in cases of violent crime.]


My Lords, the section of the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, putting an end to the power of the courts to order corporal punishment came into force on September 13, 1948. Up to that date, corporal punishment could be imposed for offences of robbery with violence and armed robbery. The returns from the police forces show that 711 offences of this nature were known to the police in England and Wales during the first nine months of 1948: during the first nine months of 1949, when corporal punishment was not available as a penalty, the figure was 597. Later figures are not yet available, but the inquiries which have been made do not disclose any evidence for thinking that the reasons which led Parliament to enact this particular section of the Criminal Justice Act have been invalidated. It is recognised that there are differences of opinion on the question whether the courts should have power to award corporal punishment, and that these differences of opinion do not follow.Party lines; but the question was fully debated when the Criminal Justice Bill was before Parliament and I am not aware of any consideration which would justify reopening the decision which Parliament then reached to take away this power from the courts.


My Lords, arising out of that answer, may I ask if figures are available to show whether or not there has recently been a considerable increase in juvenile violent crime?


I will gladly find out for the noble and learned Viscount. I cannot tell him on the spur of the moment.


May ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack whether his attention was drawn, for example, to the remarks of Mr. Justice Streatfeild at the Leeds Assizes yesterday, where he said, or is reported in The Times of to-day's date to have said: I do not know, nor am I particularly concerned, whether statistics of crimes of violence throughout the country have decreased or not since the abolition of corporal punishment in September, 1948, but, as one of those who has perhaps only too much experience of the administration of the criminal law, I do know that the degree of violence in these cases, whether against women or men, old or young, is more brutal and cruel now than it ever was. In such circumstances it is no comfort to the wounded and terrified victims of the most brutal and savage assaults to be told that there are fewer crimes of this character than there used to be. He goes on to say at the end: Facts speak louder than statistics. I need hardly venture to ask the noble and learned Viscount whether he is aware that there is on this question the most intense anxiety quite apart, as he has already said, from Party lines. May I ask whether His Majesty's Government will keep the matter under urgent review and consideration, in view of the remarks made by Mr. Justice Streatfeild, the Lord Chief Justice and many other Judges and justices throughout the country? There is, I suggest, considerable alarm and very grave anxiety. I should like to ask whether the noble and learned Viscount can give us some hope that the position will be kept under review.


My Lords, before the noble and learned Viscount replies, may I also ask whether he will keep his mind open to a suggestion which he did not receive very sympathetically when the Bill was being debated, but with which think he sympathises at heart—that is, whether some means cannot be found for giving compensation to the people whom the administration of the country has failed to preserve from this brutality which is noticed by His Majesty's Judges?


My Lords, any Government, whatever its Party complexion may be, must keep those matters under most serious review. I agree that it must cause any right-thinking citizen grave anxiety. With regard to the remarks of Mr. Justice Streatfeild, he seemed to differentiate between facts and statistics. I do not quite follow what he meant by that. After all, statistics should be merely a collated table of facts, and I am quite unaware of any statistics available to me or to anyone else showing whether or not it is the fact that crime of this sort has increased in violence since a previous date. But, frankly, I feel that I should not myself base any conclusion upon the statistics which I have given to the noble Earl. I think the time is much too short. So far as one can base any conclusion at all upon them, however, it would certainly lead one to suppose that the abolition of flogging has not had a bad effect on crime.


My Lords, are not the Government aware that the general opinion amongst the experts on juvenile crime is that this is one of the aftermaths of war; that these young criminals were children who were out of hand during the war and have now reached the age when they commit these horrible crimes?


This is a matter upon which the Judges and those who deal with juvenile crime are very much divided. That is, I think, one justification for this part of the Act, because the sentence passed would depend largely upon the Judge before whom the accused person appeared. I quite agree that the view which the noble Lord has expressed is one which is widely held and much supported.