HL Deb 10 June 1952 vol 177 cc7-9

2.55 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the apparent increase in crimes of violence, and the remarks of those responsible for the administration of justice, consideration can now be given to the introduction of corporal punishment for those found guilty.]


My Lords, when Parliament, in 1948, was considering the Criminal Justice Bill which abolished corporal punishment as a judicial penalty, the arguments for and against this form of punishment were fully ventilated, and the Government, while understanding that there are differences of opinion on this question, are not aware of any sufficient grounds to justify the introduction of legislation to amend the relevant section of the Criminal Justice Act, which has been in operation for less than four years. Before that Act came into operation courts had been able to award corporal punishment for offences of robbery, including armed robbery and robbery with violence, which were contrary to Section 23, subsection (1) of the Larceny Act, 1916. The recorded statistics do not indicate that this particular type of offence has tended to increase since the power to award sentences of corporal punishment against such offenders was taken away. On the contrary, in 1946 and 1947, when corporal punishment could be awarded, there were respectively 804 and 842 offences of this nature known to the police in England and Wales. The corresponding figures for 1950 and 1951 were 812 and 633.


My Lords, while thanking the noble and learned Lord for his reply, I should like to ask whether it is not a fact that practically every court charged with the administration of justice in this country, in dealing with offences such as he has indicated, has at one time or another expressed regret that it no longer has power to award corporal punishment. One of the latest expressions of that kind was used by the Chairman of the Exeter Quarter Sessions in a case where a youth had attacked a woman. How much longer has the feeling of the population of this country to endure such a state of affairs with a depleted police force? I ask the noble and learned Lord whether he does not think, in view of such expressions as those which we have had from the Lord Chief Justice and others, that it is time the question was further considered?


My Lords, I can answer the noble Earl only by saying that I do not for one moment accept the proposition which he advances as representing an almost universal expression of opinion. Now, as well as before the passing of the Criminal Justice Act, there is a wide divergence of opinion. I feel that it would be quite wrong to assent to what the noble Earl has said upon this subject. The matter is constantly under review, and I have no doubt that in the not very distant future some noble Lord will take the opportunity of raising it again, when it can be the subject of debate.