HL Deb 23 October 1956 vol 199 cc938-40

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, I have to inform the House that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made the following announcement in another place:

"The Government have in preparation legislative proposals in relation to capital punishment which will be laid before the House early in the next Session. Details of these proposals will be given in the usual manner. Any new Abolition Bill which might be introduced in the next Session will be subject to the usual rights and opportunities of private Members."

In repeating that statement to your Lordships I should like to convey my thanks to my noble friend Lord Gorell for his kindness and courtesy in regard to his Question.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble and learned Viscount for his courtesy. I am riot sure how much wiser the announcement has made us, but we shall naturally await with patience and great interest the details of I what may come in due course.


My Lords, on this matter, I can speak only on my own behalf and that of my noble friends who happen to share my viewߞand there are some who do not. I am bound to say to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that those of us who take my view are profoundly disappointed with this statement. We regard itߞI hope the Lord Chancellor can disillusion meߞas a breach of the assurances which the Government have given, that on this issue they would abide by the result of a free vote in another place. On this issue, there have, in fact, been a number of free votesߞthree, I thinkߞall of which have been in favour of the abolition of capital punishment. The question I should like to ask the Lord Chancellor is whether this statement means that a Private Member's Bill will not be given the same facilities next Session as were given during the Session now coming to an end.


My Lords, in dealing with the first part of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I should like to make it quite clear that the Government did not give a pledge to abide by the decision of the other place and I should like to quote what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said on the relevant occasions. On February 23 he said [OFFICIAL RI-PORT, Commons, Vol. 549, col. 576]: We offer, first, time for the Bill both on Second Reading and, of course, after Second Reading. should it be passed, on the later stages of the Bill and, secondly, at each stage we offer a free vote. I do not think that more can be asked of a Government. On July 17, after the debates in your Lordships' House, my right honourable friend said [OFFICIAL, REPORT, Commons, Vol. 556 (No. 193), col. 1041]: As the House knows, the Private Member's Bill introduced by the honourable Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne was rejected in another place. The Government are giving consideration to the whole question of capital punishment in the light of these circumstances. it is my intention to make a statement on this subject before the Session ends. In fact the Government are doing what they were urged to do by several distinguished Members of your Lordships' House. I would remind the House that my noble friend, the Leader of the House, at the conclusion of the debate on the Second Reading of the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill undertook that the Government would give every attention to all the points made during the debate and in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Keith of Avonholm, by the Lord Chief Justice, by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. and by the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel.

In answer to the other point as to the facilities that will be given, I would suggest to the noble Lordߞand I do this in no debating spiritߞthat he should await the Government Bill which I have 'mentioned, and not anticipate further, because, of course, it will be open to honourable Members in another place and to noble Lords who find that they dislike the Government's Billߞif there are any ߞto propose Amendments to it, and to seek to reject it on Second Reading. I do not think we should anticipate further at the end of this Session.


My Lords, would it be possible for the noble and learned Viscount to indicate whether a Bill which has already been before another place as well as your Lordships' House will now be impeded and not allowed to come forward a third time, either in relation to the Parliament Act or in any other way?


My Lords, if the noble Lord will look at the end of the statement I have made, I think he will see that I have already dealt with the position of the Private Member's Bill. On the other point, I may say that the Parliament Act is something which applies when certain circumstances arise. Therefore, I do not think there is any question of impeding the application of the Parliament Act. It is a question whether the circumstances mentioned in the Parliament Act do come into being.


I am much obliged to the noble and learned Viscount.

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