HL Deb 19 April 1961 vol 230 cc599-601

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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many persons under the age of 21 have been condemned to death for capital murder since the Homicide Act, 1957, came into operation, and how many of these persons were subsequently reprieved.]


My Lords, five persons under the age of 21 have been convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Two of these were subsequently reprieved.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for these figures, and I am sure we are all delighted to see that they are so very low. May I, as a supplementary question, just ask Her Majesty's Government for this assurance? I understand that the Government require a period in which to test out the working of the Homicide Act. I believe the period to be about five years. If that is so, the five-year limit has very nearly been reached. When that period has expired will Her Majesty's Government give this matter their most searching examination and see whether it is not possible to raise the age limit below which no person may be hanged from 18 to 21 years, always bearing in mind the majority recommendations of both the Select Committee and the Royal Commission?


My Lords, I think I can go no further than to draw my noble friend's attention to the words of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place on April 12, when he said, among other things [col. 273]: It is too soon to draw conclusions about the result of the Homicide Act, 1957.


My Lords, I am rather perturbed, and I hope that my supplementary question will meet with some approval by your Lordships. As to the advisability or otherwise of the judgment of the courts being eliminated for some reason or other, I would ask my noble friend who answered the Questions, which my noble friend had on the Order Paper, and I would also ask my noble friend behind me, two questions. Is not this a moment when we should try to get some investigation into whether, when the courts have decided quite definitely on any question and when judges and other people in authority have reached a conclusion, their recommendations and judgment should be carried out without any of this investigation which, so far as I can see, is quite out of proportion?


My Lords, I do not think that my noble friend's statement is quite in line with the Questions of my other noble friends; but no doubt my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will see the words that my noble friend has said.


My Lords, is the noble Earl the Minister aware that these matters are likely to be raised in a very acute way on the Criminal Justice Bill?


My Lords, I have drawn attention to the fact that these matters have already been raised in another place, and I have no doubt that they will be raised again.


My Lords, are we to take the reply of the noble Earl the Minister to the supplementary question of the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, as a denial that there was an understanding that the Homicide Act should be reviewed after five years?—because I should regard that as a very serious matter.


My Lords, my reply must not be taken to be in any way a denial. I only drew attention to what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said in another place in the course of a very lengthy speech, which it would not be right to go through in your Lordships' House to-day.


My Lords, did the noble Earl say that there was any real understanding when the Homicide Act was passed that it was to be reviewed after five years? This is the first I have heard that there was an actual understanding that that should be done.


My Lords, there was no such understanding.


My Lords, that was categorically Stated by a member of the noble Earl's own Party in another place.

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