HL Deb 09 November 1961 vol 235 cc435-502

3.15 p.m.

LORD STONHAM rose to call attention to the Report of the Home Office Research Unit entitled Murder; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that the Homicide Act, which came into force on March 21, 1957, was a compromise between the views of those who believe that hanging deters people from committing murder and the views of those who do not. Before 1957, all murders were punishable by death, by hanging. The new Act made two main changes: first, a distinction between capital murder, which still carries the death penalty, and non-capital murder, the maximum sentence for which was to be life imprisonment. Capital murders are defined as those committed in the course of theft, murder by shooting, murder to resist arrest, murder of a police or prison officer and second murders. The other main change brought into being by the Act made it possible for an accused person to plead diminished responsibility, whereas it had previously been possible in such circumstances only to plead guilty but insane.

Like most compromise solutions, the Act did not wholly satisfy anyone. Those opposed to capital punishment, though regarding the Act as a step in the right direction, said that the creation of two classes of murder was illogical and likely to create anomalies. Their opponents feared that the partial removal of the death penalty would lead to an increased number of murders. Meanwhile the argument has been stalemated, as it were, by lack of sufficiently comprehensive information on the working of the Act. But that is no longer the case. The need has been completely satisfied by the publication of this remarkable and indeed brilliant Report in its appropriate red cover. It was generally expected that the working of the Act would be reviewed after five years, and therefore our thanks are due to the Home Secretary, who gave the instructions, and to those statisticians who so ably carried them out, for providing us with all the material we need for an objective discussion and, I hope, a rational decision.

The keynote of the Report is in the preface by the Director of Research. He emphasises that it is …based on a statistical enquiry, beginning with deaths initially recorded by the police as murders and following them through to the final decision reached…". And he concludes: The object of the report is to give a perspective view of the subject over recent years, with special attention to the effect of the changes made by the Homicide Act, 1957. It is hoped that it may provide a sound basis for judgments about this crime.

The Report expresses no opinions; it is content to let the facts speak for themselves. But it asserts—and I think that we must agree—that they will provide a sound basis for judgments. The Report provides 41 Tables of detailed figures which together comprise a complete and, indeed, almost exhaustive analysis of murder, including types of murder, of murderers, of victims and of punishments, always including, when the figures are available, comparisons between the years immediately prior to and those since the passing of the Act; and, for the purpose of accurate comparison, so-called murders, which have resulted in discharge or acquittal, and those which have been reduced to Section 2 manslaughter through acceptance of the plea of diminished responsibility, have been included as murders. Though this means that the total figures are somewhat inflated in recent years, it serves to emphasise that the Report goes to the limit, so far as it can, to ensure that all comparisons are accurate, and unaffected, as it were, by the Homicide Act. I will not weary your Lordships by quoting figures which you have no doubt already studied in the Report, but will just mention the main facts which, in my view, the Report establishes beyond reasonable doubt.

The first is that, although there are fluctuations from year to year, there is no appreciable increase in murder over the years. Thirty years ago the average of murder and Section 2 manslaughter per million of the population was 3.2; in 1956 it was 3.4, and last year it was 3.7-although, owing to the exceptionally large number of acquittals last year I think the figure should more properly be put at 3.5. This constant proportion is in strong contrast to the enormous increase over the same period, in indictable offences. In the 'thirties, indictable offences were 6,000 per million of the population; last year they were 16,000 per million of the population. In the 'thirties, the figure for violence against the person was 59 per million; last year it was 343 per million; a six-fold increase. It is clear that the Homicide Act has not produced a murder wave. The tragic increase in the general crime rate is not reflected in the murder rate. Murder is a crime apart.

The second important fact that emerges from the Report is that the figures of deaths recorded as murders by the police are quite misleading unless subjected to careful analysis. Every year the pattern scarcely changes. Every year about one-third of the murderers commit suicide; another 35 per cent. are insane or have their judgment sufficiently impaired to allow acceptance of a plea of diminished responsibility. Only about 30 per cent. of the total are convicted and sentenced for murder. Before the Act the average was 30.9 per cent.; since the Act it has been 30.8 per cent.—a remarkably constant figure. But the true figure, as the Report points out, may well be lower. It says, …since a number of those sentenced to life imprisonment are later sent to mental hospitals". Less even than half of this 30 per cent.—that is to say, about one in seven of the total—are murders which are now defined as capital murders. This proportion also is quite unchanged. Before the Act, capital murders represented 14.4 per cent. of the total; since the Act the figure is 14.6 per cent. of the total. Therefore, it is beyond dispute that suicidal despair, insanity and violent rage account for the overwhelming majority of murders; and few indeed of the people responsible for this majority have previous convictions. In the words of the Report, they are ordinary people driven to an act of desperation". The proportion is constant, and this leads to the inescapable conclusion that for such crimes hanging is no deterrent. Indeed, on this point the statisticians venture the only opinion that I can find in the Report. It says: It is clear that from the point of view of saving life, and especially the lives of children, seeking a deterrent penalty is less important than investigating the kind of mental breakdown which leads to family murders.

The third important thing which emerges from the Report is that the fears in some minds that the partial dropping of the death penalty would lead to an increase in murder have proved groundless. The proportion of non-capital murders has in fact declined. In 1952 it was 87.9 per cent.; last year it was 81.3 per cent. This section of the Act, therefore, has proved wholly justified. By reducing the number of what I may call "unnecessary" murder verdicts, it has lightened the unhappy burden of those who administer the law of homicide, and from none more than from the Home Secretary. In 1952, 32 murderers were sentenced to death, of whom 15 were reprieved. Last year there were only 5 sentences, including one reprieve.

The fourth and, to me, the most remarkable fact to be culled from the Report is that the hopes that the retention of the death penalty for capital murder would prove a deterrent have not been fulfilled. It is true that there has been some decline in murders by shooting. But the Report states that in any case most shooting murders are by the suicides and the mentally abnormal, and that they have shown an increasing tendency to employ gas poisoning instead of shooting. The quite remarkable thing is that, despite the death penalty, the figures for murder in pursuance of theft show a sharp increase. Murders of men for robbery or financial gain were only 7 per cent. of the total before the Act; but since 1957 they have averaged nearly 20 per cent. The whole of this increase, which occurred mainly in 1959–60, is attributable to men with criminal records. Thus, despite the fact that all criminals know that this kind of murder may involve the death penalty, it has proved no deterrent. On the contrary, murder with robbery has increased.

It is, of course, possible to argue that the actual numbers are so small that not too much should be based on this quite startling fact. But to put it at its very lowest, the clear, unmistakable and unanswerable conclusion to be drawn from the Report on this point is that, it does not matter whether you hang or not, the number of capital murders will be the same. And the inevitable question arises: if hanging is not a deterrent, if it does not stop murders, then why continue it?

So far I have dealt only with the facts and words from the Report. Now I wish to accept the invitation of its compilers and use those facts as the basis for what I hope will be regarded as sound judgments on the crime of murder, and I therefore have to move into the realm of opinion. On October 29 last, Mr. John Gordon, in his weekly column in the Sunday Express, said this: The Home Office discloses that, while the number of 'life imprisonment' murders is showing a decline, the annual rate of 'hanging' murders has doubled in recent years. And what do you think the death penalty abolitionists argue from that? That we should stop hanging robber murderers and police killers, because hanging is not proving a deterrent. It does not seem a very logical argument to me. I have no doubt that quite a number of people would agree with Mr. Gordon. But if we can no longer argue that taking a murderer's life will save the lives of innocent people, what remains of the case for the death penalty? There remains only vengeance, the mob cry of, "To the gallows". If it is proved that it no longer protects the innocent, would a single Member of your Lordships' House still wish five or six times a year to compel the whole nation to participate in the ritual dance of death of a miserable thief who has murdered his victim? I very much regret that no noble Lord from the Benches opposite has so far signified his intention of speaking in this debate, but I really believe that no one, in the face of these facts, could wish to condemn the nation to this. That is what it boils down to: a ritual act of revenge from which none of us could escape. The newspapers make sure of that.

What about those who are closer to it—the jury, anxious to do their duty, but fearful that they might have condemned an innocent man; the prison officers, who must live with and watch the condemned man and ensure that, above all, his life is preserved until it is ended at the ordained moment and in the approved manner; and the hangman who, as was demonstrated so horribly in the recent B.B.C. programme, must expeditiously seize and pinion his subject to make sure that the knot is placed in just the right place on the left lower jaw, to make humanely certain of the maximum lethal effect? He said, my Lords, that if the knot was in the wrong place a man might live on the rope for a quarter of an hour.

None of us is unaffected by this ritual and none unsullied. We can no longer pretend that our suffering achieves any practical or moral purpose. I am told that a large part of the Judiciary disagree with this view. They hold that hanging is still a necessary protection for the innocent. But then only 150 years ago Lord Chief Justice Ellen-borough used the same argument in opposing the abolition of hanging for the crime of shoplifting to the value of 5s. He said: I am convinced, with the rest of the judges, that public expediency requires there should be no remission of the terror denounced against this description of offenders. No jurist to-day advocates such deterrents for such crimes and, in the face of this Report, they can no longer argue that hanging is a deterrent any more than they could or, indeed would, attempt to justify the criteria of selection between capital and non-capital murder. If a man poisons his wife and watches her die by inches in agony, we do not hang him. If a man strikes a mortal blow at another and in the process rifles his pockets, we do. In effect it is not the murder which decides the hanging, but the theft. There is nothing of morality in that distinction, and when you examine particular cases and realise the utter trivialities which govern the decisions, this grisly farce becomes exposed for what it is—a completely immoral and untenable position.

I will mention three examples—and I do not pick them out just to discuss their merits or demerits, but to emphasise the legal hairline which decides between life and death. First, the Hounslow footpath murder last year. It was a brutal assault on an innocent passer-by, of the type which is now all too common and too frequently goes unpunished. This time the victim died. Four youths were involved. One was sentenced for non-capital murder and three for capital murder, of whom one was not hanged because he was only seventeen. The third, who had virtually kicked his victim to death, was only eighteen, and his youth excited considerable public compassion. It was proved that the fourth man, aged 23, whose case occasioned little notice, did not assault the victim but rifled his pockets while the others held him. The poor man had only 10s., and they did not find that. It was, however, murder in furtherance of theft, and this man, Harris, considered technically to have taken part in the murder, was hanged. This despite the fact that subsection (2) of Section 5 of the Act makes it clear that when two or more persons are guilty of the murder, it shall not be capital murder if one of the persons did not by his own act cause death or inflict grievous bodily harm, or did not himself use force. Nevertheless, Harris was hanged. The deciding factor was, of course, the 10s.

A second remarkable case was that of George Riley, who in December last year was convicted of the capital murder of an elderly widow in furtherance of theft. The sole evidence in support of this was Riley's own statement to the police, made after five hours' questioning, that he had intended to rob the victim. It was a remarkable statement for a butcher's assistant, concise and well-written, which Riley withdrew as soon as he came into court, alleging that he had written it down at the suggestion of the detective inspector in charge. There was no money, no finger prints, no disturbance, and no effort made to prove or check anything. The police had their statement of intention to rob, and that was enough for them and enough to hang Riley.

The other case I would mention is one with which I personally was concerned. In 1958, just before I came to your Lordships' House an elderly recluse named Adams was found battered to death at his home in Shoreditch, which was my constituency. He was a beggar, dirty and ragged, but, as so often happens with people of that kind, reputedly wealthy. Five months after his death, George Collier, aged 67, an unemployed old-age pensioner who lived in the same house, was charged with capital murder. It was alleged that he had robbed the victim although, remarkably enough, £80 was found in the ragged clothing on the body and a Post Office book showing a credit of £200. Collier had no money and, although as a man with a record living in the same house he was the first suspect and frequently questioned, it was significant that the police did not charge him until five months after the murder.

The case aroused no interest and the reports, even in the local Press, were quite meagre. From those reports, such as they were, there seemed almost no case against Collier on the theft issue, and I expected him to be acquitted. But he was convicted of capital murder, and condemned. I did not write to Collier or say anything to him, or he to me, but I wrote to the Home Secretary referring to certain specific points and, as the whole case was so thin and raised considerable doubts, asked if he would recommend a reprieve. Mr. Butler acknowledged the letter, and said that if the need arose the points I had put forward would be taken into account, but that Collier had appealed and, of course, we must await the outcome before deciding if anything had to be done. The appeal was dismissed, but I did not see it in the Press, and the next thing I knew was a letter from Collier, the first word that 110 passed between us. It was a curious letter, most matter of fact and casual. In fact it began: As one of your constituents, I am writing on a matter of some importance to me. I am to be hanged on Tuesday week. The letter ended in the same matter of fact tone: Hoping this finds you as it leaves me at present". In between, he set out clearly apparently convincing proof that he had not robbed Adams. He also said that he did not murder him, and asked me to secure a new trial.

Unfortunately, the letter had been held back and took five days to reach me. I telephoned Pentonville and spoke to the Deputy Governor, who told me that as Collier had not written to me before it was necessary to get the Prison Commissioners' permission for Collier to send a letter to his Member of Parliament. I know that it seems incredible, but it is true; and anyone who knows something of prison conditions will not be surprised that red tape could bind a man even in a condemned cell. The unfortunate thing about this delay meant that I had just four whole days in which to establish a case for a reprieve, because the recommendation would almost certainly have to be made by Friday of that week. The Home Secretary was in Spain and not due to return home until late on Thursday. So I saw the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. Naturally, he could express no opinion, but I want to say most gratefully and warmly that he gave me all of his time that was necessary and all the help that I needed, even volunteering, because time was so short, to make copies of my notes and documents and, indeed, the further letters which then came in in a minor flood.

I did all that I could on paper and arranged to see the Home Secretary on Friday afternoon. But by chance we met on the Thursday evening and Mr. Butler told me he had not yet decided. He would study the papers that night and let me know in the morning. He mentioned, however, that he had been impressed by the concluding sentence of my case, which was: This man is an old rogue but there is a strong clement of doubt and he is entitled to the benefit of it. At noon the next day I was informed that a reprieve was to be granted. My Lords, that was one of the longest and most anxious weeks I ever remember.

The story has a sequel. I had not at the time seen, spoken or written to Collier. There were neither the time nor the need. After the reprieve he sent me some abusive letters telling me he wanted me to get him a new trial, and I wrote explaining the difficulties. He sent me a friendly letter in reply on what had really happened. They were both friendless, lonely old men. Collier was fond of his cat. Adams had kicked it and treated his cat badly. They had quarrelled, fought, and Collier had killed him. There was no question of robbery. Naturally I sent the letter to Mr. Butler, who told me he had received one in similar terms, and to my great relief said he was certain that the right decision had been taken.

I am telling this story for the first time because it demonstrates clearly that under the present Act the decision between life and death depends on hazard, whether a letter comes, chance and trivialities. It should not be so. It also places an intolerable burden on everyone connected with the case, and in particular on the Home Secretary and his advisers. If, in carrying that burden they were protecting the lives of the rest of us, that would be serving a useful purpose; but they are not. This Report proves that observance of the hanging ritual serves no purpose at all.

I have said no word about the sufferings of the condemned man. I do not intend to. The handful of criminals who commit murder for robbery are not good men; they are bad, utterly selfish, usually pitiless and completely egocentric. My interest in criminals is one we all share. We wish to see that they get justice and a chance of rehabilitation when they have served their punishment.

My Lords, the case for the abolition of capital punishment implicit in this Report is unanswerable. Hanging achieved nothing when it was a popular entertainment. It failed to stop crime when 220 crimes were punishable by death. Hanging achieves nothing today. I plead for its abolition, not because of what it does to the condemned man, or even to his family, but what it does to us all, all of us. My Lords, if in the face of this Report we were to continue the death penalty it would be an admission that we did so for revenge, an admission that we were still living, not in the twentieth century, but in the Dark Ages. And I urge that, free of all politics and Party, we, the Members of your Lordships' House, should join together in asking the Government to let us join the other civilised countries of the world by abolishing the death sentence during this the middle Session of the present Parliament. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, there are few occasions in life when one is entitled to call a spade a spade and not a sociological shovel, and this is one of those occasions. I say without any hesitation that capital punishment is utterly barbaric and any country that indulges in this form of punishment is a barbaric country. But the trouble arises in this way. We are not dealing with Party politics, but the fact is that we have in this country conservatism and the Conservative Party. There is a good deal of good in conservatism, and I am sure there are many good people in the Conservative Party; but the fact remains that in the Conservative Party there is a solid and dominating bloc who are opposed to any abolition or reform, and when they cannot block it entirely they put up a rearguard action. That is exactly what happened in 1957. This capital punishment should have been abolished years and years ago.

In the course of time no doubt there will be another political Party forming Her Majesty's Government. It may be Socialist, it may be Liberal—modesty precludes me from saying which of those two Parties I prefer—but there is not the remotest doubt that when there is a new political Party in power capital punishment will be abolished almost instantaneously; there is no doubt about that at all. And in years to come people will look back on the year 1961 and say, "Why did people in this country continue with this abomination of desolation?" Why not abolish it today? It has been abolished in New Zealand, it has been abolished in Scandinavia, it has been abolished in many countries of the world, and there has been no difficulty.

The reasons put up by the people who wish to resist abolition are, to me, most extraordinary. One is that we have to wait for five years after 1957; that is to say, we have to wait until 1962, until the matter can come up again. Fancy saying to a man on the scaffold, who has about one-fifth of a second to live, "I am very sorry this is happening to you now; if only you had lived another year we might have abolished it by that time"! Then it is said that you cannot abolish it until you know precisely what is meant by the length of a life sentence. I have heard that said from the Cross Benches: people do not know what is the proper alternative to capital punishment. My Lords, if I might parody Rudyard Kipling, I venture to think that the British Empire or the British Commonwealth would not have gone any farther than Brighton beach if we had listened to arguments of that description. Then another argument is that the police are frightened. We never hear that in New Zealand or Scandinavia or any other country. It is one of those canards which are ventilated by people who have no good arguments to advance.

Just think of the law as it exists to-day. Some time ago a young man in the Midlands stabbed a young girl fifteen times and thereby killed her. That was non-capital murder. If he had stabbed her once and mercifully killed her and taken half-a-crown out of her purse that would have been capital murder. Ridiculous! Suppose I have an old uncle who has made a will and is going to leave me all his money, and I want that money quickly. If I slowly poison him and eventually he passes out in great pain, that is non-capital murder. On the other hand, if I say, "Uncle, you have lived long enough. I want your cash," and I put a bullet into him, that is capital murder. Why do these extraordinary ambiguities exist? I will tell your Lordships why. It is because of this bloc of Conservative opinion who put up a rearguard action whenever they can to stop anything in the nature of reform. I had better not say much more because otherwise, standing in the presence of Bishops, should probably be thrown out for using blasphemy. I myself feel that capital punishment is an abomination and desolation, and until we abolish it we are a barbaric country.

3.49 p.m.


My Lords perhaps I had better try to reduce the temperature a little. There is no shadow of doubt whatever that this Report makes it quite plain that the consequence of the Homicide Act in England provided evidence of the same kind and in the same direction as that which is provided by other countries which have abolished capital punishment: namely, that capital punishment has not in itself any peculiarly strong deterrent effect. But that of course would not necessarily mean that capital punishment is always unjust. It is conceivable that although having no deterrent effect it might still be the just penalty to inflict. So far as I understand the position, even Mr. Gollancz and the Society over which he presides do not at this moment propose the exclusion of such a crime as treason from the list of capital offences. It seems to me that a man may forfeit his right to life in consequence of a particular action; it seems to me that may be true, and that therefore the community may have the right to terminate the life of such an offender. But I am absolutely convinced that in this country at this time it is exceedingly inexpedient for the State to take that line.

In the first place, so far from being a deterrent, it is my conviction that the effect of capital punishment is precisely the opposite. The real deterrent against murder, what really stops people like you and me, when we lose our temper or are very afraid, from going so far as to kill somebody else is the general respect which we all have for the sanctity of human life. It is that in the common mind of the common man which deters people from murder and which maintains the murder rate at the relatively low figure which it in fact has. But the spectacle of the State from time to time, with all the solemn majesty of the law, actually in cold blood taking life, sows, surely, a state of doubt in the conscious or the unconscious mind of everyone in the community, a doubt as to whether perhaps human life is not so sacred after all.


My Lords, might I ask the right reverend Prelate whether he would pursue, in, if I may say so, his most interesting speech, this point: if what he has just said is true, no one ought to join the Army or any of the Armed Services, because they take life.


My Lords, I have never heard the view advanced that war was in itself expedient for society or that society would not be far better off if it could safely exist without soldiers; and society can safely exist without capital punishment. No one, after reading this Report, can possibly argue that the abolition of capital punishment would make life any the less safe for any of us.

My other reason for thinking that the retention of capital punishment is extremely inexpedient is the morbid quasi-hysterical curiosity which is engendered in the community every time an execution takes place. I am quite sure that it would be expedient for the community if life sentences were substituted in every case for capital punishment. But there is now a demand, often heard, that in that case life sentences should be life sentences indeed, and that anybody convicted of murder so sentenced should be kept in prison really for his life. That is a perfectly intelligible demand, since all the punishments inflicted by law reflect and express the social disapproval of the crimes for which they are inflicted; and since the social disapproval of the crime of murder is very deeply and intensely felt it is not unnatural that you should get this demand either for capital punishment or for literally life imprisonment.

But, my Lords, if any of you are tempted to endorse this demand for a literally life-long sentence, I would beg of you first to try to imagine the effect upon a man of a sentence of a life term of imprisonment. As he slowly comes to realise the life that lies before him there settles down upon him a cloud of despair. He is robbed of all initiative and responsibility. Long sentences of imprisonment rot a man's soul. If the sentence is indeed for life, a man who is perhaps thirty faces a life of enforced celibacy; no wonder that our prisons are full of homosexuals. He faces, prison conditions being now what they are, a life of relative idleness; at least his chances of being able to engage all through every week of every year in a creative trade or occupation are very slim. He faces a life of enforced confinement within the walls of the prison buildings and the prison yard, ending only when he reaches the grave. How can one condemn a man to such a state of hopeless despair? It might be just for so heinous a crime, it might be justice, but would it be merciful? I think our present practice of life sentences, which turns them, as I understand it, really into a sentence of detention during Her Majesty's pleasure, is a much better practice. For this, at least, leaves the man with some hope and so spurs him on to accept and work out his punishment as his just due and to co-operate with the authorities in his own reform.

About a month ago the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury debated a resolution advocating the abolition of capital punishment. I think that Her Majesty's Government might profitably pay a little attention to that debate, for it is not without significance. It is, I think, the first occasion upon which this particular topic has ever come before Convocation; at least I cannot remember any earlier occasion. And the resolution advocating the abolition of capital punishment was passed unanimously. My Lords, the clergy of the Lower House of Convocation are fairly representative of the clergy of the whole of the South of England. That means that you have a very large body of not uninfluential people over the whole of the South of the country who are of opinion that capital punishment ought to be abolished. I think that is a fact which Her Majesty's Government might well take into account, for I am sure that this proposed reform to abolish capital punishment is one which should be put through at the earliest politically possible moment, for it would be more consistent with the humane instincts of our nation and more congruent with the principles of Christian mercy.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that in the long history of the struggle for the abolition of capital punishment the decision reached by the religious leaders to which the right reverend Prelate has just referred may be regarded as a most important event, and I am glad to feel that I come to this Box so soon after that fact was mentioned to your Lordships. The House has listened to me on capital punishment on previous occasions, and I do not propose to offer any sort of full-length speech this afternoon—partly, I am afraid, because I have to leave for another engagement before the noble Viscount replies and I should not wish, therefore, to embarrass him with a prolonged attack which he would then be asked to deal with in my absence, and partly because I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has dealt with the main issues so much more effectively than I could.

There are one or two introductory remarks which I should like to offer. It always seems to me a pity that so many of our penal debates take place with all the speaking from one point of view. Of course, when the Silverman Bill was debated in your Lordships' House we had many speeches from both sides; but usually the penal reformers, so to speak, and the abolitionists, do nearly all the talking until the Minister comes to reply. That he does most courteously, but in a way that is bound to be rather official. We do not get the untrammelled thoughts of the opponents of abolition, or the champions of capital punishment, or the retentionists—however they like to describe themselves. That, I think, is a pity because the impact on opinion is perhaps not as great as it would otherwise be. The debate tends to be discounted, and that is regrettable. I, too, am hopeful that before the end of this debate some retentionists may feel prompted to say in public what I am sure many of them would believe to be the truth.

One other point comes into my mind—this is quite incidental though not insignificant. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, referred to the fact that there are many close shaves. We do not know, of course, which way they all go. Sometimes there is a reprieve, and later innocence is discovered. Sometimes people go to the gallows, and who can say what the truth was after the execution has been carried out? I know of one case, for instance, of a young man named Michael Davies, who was condemned to death for what was called the "Clapham Common Murder". He was reprieved after spending three months in the condemned cell. That must have been a fairly close shave; but he was reprieved, so I certainly have no complaint against the Home Secretary of the day who reprieved him. After he had been in prison some years it was decided by the present Home Secretary, after various reports, that he should be released. There was never any admission by the authorities that he was innocent, but he was in fact released after seven years in prison.

Those who feel that sentence on those convicted of murder should be prolonged would argue that seven years was much too short. But when a man is released after seven years it seems to admit of at least some element of doubt. We can all think of many other cases which bring home the painful fact of uncertainty alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. But I am not going to try to speak as warmly, though perhaps I feel as keenly, as some other speakers. I should like to appeal to those in the House—this may be everybody; but at any rate there must be some here and some who read our debates who are ready to look once more at the evidence, whose minds are not made up—that we must be most careful to avoid humbug ourselves. We must be careful not to call upon other people to approach this matter with open minds, then to reply at the same time that we have been abolitionsts for years and no evidence whatsoever would make the slightest difference to our view. It is quite clear that if we are to have any candour of discussion, what is sauce for the goose must be sauce for one's candour. It is difficult, I think all must agree, to bring an open mind to Reports of this sort where one has already acquired strong convictions based, one would hope, on a good deal of study. It is rather like, shall we say, being asked to study a report on the working of nationalisation or of denationalisation in iron and steel, and, at the end, to be quite dispassionate in the view one forms about new evidence. I think one can say that people are still open to persuasion.

In the summer we had a short debate on certain aspects of abolition. It was inevitably restricted because it arose on an Amendment which was moved to the Criminal Justice Bill and which related to those under twenty-one. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, not, I think, unnaturally—certainly one would not wish to criticise him for it—reminded us that he had often previously spoken on these matters and his views on the principles and the broad aspects of corporal punishment were easily available, and he asked leave not to go into all the questions that afternoon. I am not criticising him for that, but I would refer to something he said because it links up with what I was myself just suggesting. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 231 (No. 80) col. 441]: …one comes, in the end, to one's assessment of the mind of the criminal; and my assessment of the mind of the criminal is that the housebreaker or burglar would either carry a gun or would take a chance of hitting an old lady over the head much more readily if there was no death penalty. That, he said, was his assessment. He repeated: That is my assessment of the criminal mind. I do not resent anyone else having a different assessment. We all understood that point of view. He credited me, naturally, with a different assessment. I would only suggest that it is inevitable that one forms some assessment—certainly someone occupying the position of great authority of the Lord Chancellor forms his assessment. But I would suggest that it would be wrong (and I hope the noble Viscount will agree with me) to close one's mind at any stage of one's active public career to any fresh evidence that may be available. It may be that the evidence is almost balanced. Fresh evidence may tip the scales. When I say "fresh evidence", I imagine that anyone with the great reputation and great position of the Lord Chancellor would look afresh at all the evidence in the light of anything of any importance that was brought forward. That, I submit, is the duty of the Government. That, I should hope, always will be my own point of view.

But if I may make so bold as to draw this distinction between his present approach and mine, I would say that he bases himself, in the last resort, on his own understanding of how a criminal's mind would be expected to work. He has much experience of the criminal law, and he has formed his own opinions on how the criminal mentality would function. On the other hand, it may be said that I and others like me start from the proposition that execution of any sort—hanging, for example—is something utterly revolting. We start from those two points of view.

In the summer the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said that he had examined all the figures and did not believe—I use his own words—"that they give a conclusive argument". This, of course, was before the publication of this new document. If I am not misunderstanding him, the Lord Chancellor would ask for conclusive evidence before he altered his own assessment of how the criminal mind might be expected to work. If I may put my own point of view, I would ask for conclusive evidence that hanging was an effective deterrent before I rejected the view that in itself it is utterly revolting. Therefore, to that extent, we are both, I hope, still open to facts, although the noble Viscount would need conclusive facts in one direction, so to speak, and I would need conclusive facts in another.

We come down to the House this afternoon and we have in front of us this latest Report. I myself do not feel that this Report greatly alters the judgments that in was our duty to form before, but that is a matter of opinion. In my own opinion it increases the evidence, already very strong, that hanging is no deterrent, but I am not saying that it is so coercive that no honest person who was a retentionist before could not be a retentionist any longer in the face of these findings. I think that would be putting it too strongly. But I think that anybody who was seriously concerned before, who before was wondering whether it was possible any longer to defend hanging as serving a useful purpose, must feel that the evidence here strengthens his doubts. If anybody was balanced in this argument beforehand (and I think a good many people are, even though they have had to take up a certain line in voting, and so on; one must take a line sometimes and say "Yes" or "No"), then I think he must be brought over to the abolitionists' side by this evidence. I would not like to put it higher than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has explained very clearly the main points in the pamphlet, and I need not return to most of them. The only point that I should like to stress, which he certainly mentioned, is the evidence, not altogether new but freshly presented, that murder is a crime apart. It is a crime apart in more senses than one. Many of us would say that, in itself, and leaving out the state of mind of the murderer, it is the most horrible crime. But it is a crime apart, as clearly appears from this document, we would say, as a result of clear evidence of a much higher mental instability among those who commit murder than appears to exist elsewhere. It is explained in the Report that a third of all suspected murderers commit suicide. Indeed, of those who are indicted on a charge of murder, only 31 per cent., at most, could be asserted (and I am using their expression) to be wholly responsible for their actions. In fact, the true proportion may be lower, since a number of those sentenced to life imprisonment are later sent to mental hospitals. So only 30 per cent., or something less, of those who are charged with murder can be held to be wholly responsible.

That, of course, is quite different from the position of criminals as a whole. Some years ago, with the kindly help of the noble and learned Viscount, I conducted an inquiry into the causes of crime, and I listened to the opinions of many experts, including a number of psychiatrists, on this question of criminal responsibility. A well-known and famous psychiatrist, Dr. Stafford Clark, for example, taking crime as a whole, drew a sharp distinction between what he called "mental" and "non-mental" crime; and that kind of distinction was accepted by many. Without tying Dr. Stafford Clark to a particular figure, I would say that the general opinion seemed to be that about 90 per cent. of crime might be said to be committed by normal people. I know these phrases are very loose, because it may be said that none of us is altogether normal; but, speaking broadly, and for the purposes of the criminal law, we can perhaps think of 90 per cent. of those who commit crime as responsible for their actions, although others may name a higher and others a lower figure. At any rate, the whole of the criminal law is based on the assumption that the vast majority of people (although, of course, not all) are, by and large, responsible for their actions. Murder is clearly an exception to that rule. In murder, a third or less can be held to be wholly responsible, and there is a very sharp contrast here between murder and other crimes.

I would therefore suggest, in the light of this new evidence and much else, that the case for capital punishment as a general penalty for murder of all kinds is eliminated or reduced to negligible strength. I would therefore feel that, if it does nothing else, this Report provides overwhelming testimony against increasing the number of categories of murder to which capital punishment should apply. But the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—rightly, in my opinion—goes further and says that it provides new and crucial ammunition for those who want to see capital punishment abolished altogether. That, of course, raises a more difficult discussion. There is no doubt that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will speak about this (although I am afraid it will be after I have gone) in some detail this afternoon. But the residual case for capital punishment now depends, I suppose, on the argument that hanging is a deterrent in the case of those who are convicted of what is now capital murder, or, at any rate, of the people who would otherwise commit capital murder if there were no executions. So we are driven back, as it were, to the small proportion of murderers who commit capital murder.

It is, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, a striking fact that the proportion of capital murders has gone down since the Act started operating. It is striking; and I think that any fair-minded person would say that it was surprising. Because one would think that, if capital punishment applied as a deterrent at all, the murders to which it applied would be inclined to diminish at the expense of those to which it did not apply; but, in fact, there has been the opposite result. In 1952 the non-capital murders were 87.9 per cent. of the whole, whereas in 1960 they were only 81.3 of the whole. The capital murders have gone up. Their proportion has gone up from 12.1 to 18.7 per cent. That, I am sure, is a point which the noble Viscount will not treat as negligible. The noble and learned Viscount will, I am sure, wish to comment on that fact. It is surprising. I am not going to call it conclusive—his own word of the summer. I think that if anyone was on the fence beforehand, this would help to bring him off the fence now.

I do not want, as I say, to deploy the general arguments which have been put, and will be put better than I would put them, to-day, though I may attempt to put them on another occasion. So I can only end by saying that we have reached this position where we now take in cold blood the lives of, say, half a dozen people a year; that is what it comes to. There is no evidence that this is of any value, that this saves the lives of any others. In so far as we do so, I am not going to agree that we do so out of any cruelty. We do so out of what can only be called a "hunch", an unsupported hunch that this in fact saves the lives of others. I say, therefore, that we are now down to this. We are prepared to execute these people, to commit, as I am afraid I must call it, judicial murder, at the expense of these human beings on the strength of a hunch.

The evidence cannot be said to be entirely conclusive that this does no good; but in so far as there is evidence, before this Report it pointed to the fact that no lives will be saved; and, since this Report, it seems to me almost impossible that someone who is at once humane and thorough in his studies can believe that any purpose will be served. If I may ask how can it be, then, that noble Lords sitting in this Chamber will probably at this moment remain unconvinced by what I have said, I would say that they will remain unconvinced, I fear, when the afternoon is over. Do I accuse them of inhumanity? No, I certainly do not do that. Do I accuse them of not having studied the facts sufficiently? In some cases that would be so; but I am certainly not going to accuse the Lord Chancellor of not having studied the facts.

My Lords, I would rather end with a plea. I would make a plea for a fresh mind. I would say it is possible after studying half the facts (because that was all that was available) to form a strong judgment, and then find it extremely difficult when many more facts are available to alter one's mind. Therefore, all I am asking for this afternoon, on behalf of the most thorough, humane, and most honest students of these matters in public life, if I may say so, is a fresh look at all the evidence. I do not expect a striking change of heart this afternoon, but I do ask the noble Viscount to tell us that he will study all these things anew, so far as possible with a fresh mind, in the immediate future.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, this extremely interesting Report on murder implies, if it does not state, two things which, to me, are most interesting. The first is: What causes the state of mind of the potential murderer? The second, which has been thoroughly discussed this afternoon, is: What is the best cure—or if we cannot hope far a complete cure what is the best plan—that we can pursue to try to lessen the incidence of this terrible crime? I have certain opinions about what may have a bearing on the development of the character of a man who commits a murder, about which I admit I have no proof nor can I produce much evidence; but it seems to me that three things come into the working of the mind developing this strange irresponsible nature which can do this terrible act.

Curiously enough, I think the first thing is housing. I think that the deplorable conditions of housing—and I am not making any political attack here; I am just stating What we must all know and admit, for in some parts of this country there are the most terrible conditions, families being brought up huddled together in one room, living in squalor, with the parents driven into an almost crazy state of mind—is not without effect on the murder rate. If one looks at the Report, one finds that nearly all the children who have been killed have been killed either by their parents or by a near relative. And one can understand, in homes such as I have described, how the strain on the mind can work the parent up into such a state that murder becomes a possibility.

I think the second cause is a tendency which is going on now for parents not to feel so responsible for their offspring as they should. In the old days, there used to be, in spite of even worse conditions, a very serious feeling on the part of parents that they must keep their children out of the courts for even minor offences, and it was an extreme disgrace if a boy or a girl came before the magistrate, or Whoever it might be. I think that is less so to-day, or so I am informed by people who work in such districts, and it is very hard to see how to cure that. I am wondering whether a rather revolutionary idea might be of some benefit to the problem, that is, if you made the parents responsible financially for any misdemeanours of their children up, say, to the age of fifteen. I know that would cause certain injustices, though in the case of utterly irresponsible children the parents could go to the courts and say: "Our children are out of hand; we cannot look after them. The local authority must do something about it". But in the other case, if the parents thought that their child, by getting into trouble, was not merely causing a personal reflection on the family but might also involve a very serious financial obligation on the parent, you would find in many cases more care exercised by the parents in bringing up their children and in seeing that they did not get into trouble, and more efforts to stop them getting on to the road which may eventually lead to serious crime.

Of course, the effect may be from the opposite course; where the too dogmatic and too stern parents can, by frustration, drive their children on to the street and into a life of rebellion. I think that sometimes our excess Puritanism can also have that effect. One has to steer a middle course, and the cure is difficult. I throw out those suggestions only as matters which may help to build up the potential criminal or the potential murderer. But I should like to agree with the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Exeter, in his thesis that the greatest safeguard we all have against murder is (we might call it) public opinion—or we might call it "taboo", to go back to an old, primitive word.

I am convinced there is nothing so strong as the feeling that something cannot, must not, and shall not, be done. If the whole disapproval, not only of the law and the more or less respectable sections of society, but also of his contemporaries, of his neighbours, even his fellow criminals, is against a person, that will have more effect than any rules or laws or apprehending that you can devise. I will give an example of that. I am told that in prison itself, if it becomes known that a certain criminal has done some terrible crime, like assaulting a young girl of five or six, feeling among the other criminals against that person is tremendous; his life is made an utter burden and sometimes becomes in danger. If you can build up this taboo, this feeling that taking human life is something which must not be done, that will be a greater protection than any laws for hanging, or anything else you can devise.

I myself think that hanging, and all that goes with it, is a horrible performance. It is horrible for everyone who is concerned with it and everyone who carries it out. It could be justified only if we could conclusively prove that it is a deterrent. If we are going to save lives by it, we must go through this horrible rigmarole. I suggest that this Report confirms the fact that it is not a deterrent. Personally I have never thought that it was. When we examine this Report, we find that the greater proportion of murders are carried out during a quarrel or by people in a violent rage, when they are completely out of control of their minds. I cannot be persuaded that a man in that state is going to think, "If it is only a life sentence, I can go on and bash this man, but if there is a risk of being hanged, I won't." I think that that is an extraordinary point of view. As my noble friend Lord Longford has pointed out, most murderers are not normal mentally. Only 31 per cent. of them can be held answerable for their actions. The number of persons who murder cold-bloodedly is small. The Report shows that the number of murders for robbery or financial gain is women 4 and men 7, as against 30 and 38 for murders through violence and passion. So again I suggest that the deterrent idea is not a valid one.

The story has often been told of the days when those who stole a purse or picked someone's pocket were hanged and while the crowd at Tyburn were gaping in awed suspense on the hanging, pickpockets were going round picking the pockets of the people. It is hard to believe that hanging was a deterrent when thieves were exercising their skill while gazing up at those on the scaffold.

I believe that there is only one argument on the other side. It is said that for the safety of the police, men engaged in breaking into a bank or shop or private house who use violence and cause the death of another person should be convicted and hanged; that it is a restraint upon violence and murder, and would discourage robbers and burglars from carrying any lethal weapons with them, and would be the best protection for the police and for other members of the public who might try to apprehend them. But one of the chief reasons why thieves do not carry weapons is that our police are not armed. I think that one of the greatest factors in providing for the safety of the police is that, save in really exceptional conditions, our policemen go unarmed except for their truncheons. In America, the policemen carry revolvers or some such weapons. Criminals know that they probably will be shot at and therefore carry guns, too, and try to shoot first.

That is the first protection for the police: that they do not carry arms. The second is that they are respected and liked by the public. From what I have seen of the American policeman, he is not liked by the general public; he is feared, and often hated. The result is that there is a tremendous number of attacks upon the police and the police reciprocate and perhaps earn some of this dislike. The fact that the English policeman is a friend of the public is a greater protection, in my opinion, than any provision in the Homicide Act about criminal responsibility. That is one reason why some noble Lords on this side of the House were upset about the allegations made after the Trafalgar Square demonstrations that the police had treated roughly non-violent demonstrators, apart from whether the demonstrators were right or wrong, and that a public inquiry had been refused. In the interests of the police, we must try to keep them as a body on the side of the public, helping us, and not acting as a hostile force, like the American police or like the secret police under a dictatorship.

In a way this debate is disappointing, because it is all on one side. There is no point in meeting arguments that have not been raised. I would beg the Government to reconsider this question, which is worrying the country very much. The Report adds great weight to the conclusion that hanging is no real deterrent. It is a barbarous custom, and I hope that our nation will cease to be among the backward countries of the world and will abolish as soon as possible this relic of barbarism.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Earl has just said, this is a funny sort of debate. Noble Lords on this side who are abolitionists and the right reverend Prelate opposite probably feel that we are rushing forward into a void, not meeting anything, and hoping that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor is not preparing trip wires for the end of the debate. When we do not meet any arguments against us, it is hard to know where to go. My profoundest hope of all is that this Report, Murder, will prove to be such a turning point in the history of the debate on capital punishment in this country that, at any rate for this afternoon and possibly later on, the arguments in favour of the retention of the death penalty will have to be very much modified, if not abandoned.

I want to speak first on one tiny point of fact. The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Exeter referred to the movement of which Mr. Victor Gollancz and Mr. Gerald Gardiner are joint chairmen and said that it did not seek to abolish the death penalty for crimes other than murder. To put the record straight, that movement is called the National Campaign for the Abolition of the Death Penalty. I think that that is a clear enough title.

I want to organise under five simple verbs my own reasons for thinking that the death penalty is a bad thing. If we catch a man who has committed a murder, try him and convict him, we have to do something more with him than punish him, because, although he must be punished, there are several other things that ought to happen to him. I think that the whole theory of what ought to be done to a convicted murderer can be summed up in the five verbs: prevent, reform, research, deter and avenge. Let me take these five things in turn and see how the death penalty now looks as a means of achieving them.

The first is prevent. By this I mean preventing the same man from doing it again, to check him in his career—though, of course, nobody makes a career of being a murderer, except the insane, who are not at issue in the question of the death penalty. I believe that I am right in saying that in the course of a century there is only one doubtful case of a convicted murderer, after his release at the end of a normal life sentence, committing another murder. I think that that means, statistically, that the released murderer is no more likely to murder again than anybody else is. The question of long sentences comes in here. If the sane convicted murderer is not to be hanged, should he be imprisoned, and should the length of his service be determined in a way not the usual one for the actual sentence served? I think this question can be answered only by looking at the statistics of how likely a man is to do it again. In other words, how likely a prison sentence for a given number of years, 15, 20 or 30 years, is to prevent him from doing it again. There is a wealth of statistics available to us on that. I do not think they suggest that the convicted murderer who is not hanged should have his prison sentence dealt with in any way differently from that in which prison sentences are usually dealt with.

To turn to the second verb on my list, "reform", that is rather a nineteenth century word, and perhaps we should now say "rehabilitate", stressing more the helping of a man with his social functions rather than adjusting his internal character; but that is a minor point. It is clear that, whatever we may think about what is able to be achieved in our prison system by treatment in the reformatory and rehabilitatory way—and it is open to criticism for lack of funds and so on—less can be achieved if you hang a man. One man who is utterly unreformable is a corpse; and hanging is out of the question, because you cannot achieve any form of reform or rehabilitation by it.

The next word is "research". This is not part of the traditional idea of what to do with a convicted murderer. It is rather a new notion that it may be an appropriate purpose in detaining a criminal and inflicting punishment and other things upon him that research should be conducted into the criminal personality and the causes of crime. At the moment we hang only the sanest criminals. We can get all the research we want into the motives, characters and personality structures of those with diminished responsibility, the insane and those under an age to be hanged. But the one we cannot research into is the man who is sane and who commits capital murder in cold blood on purpose. It might be that if we were to keep this man alive and turn psychiatrists and other qualified persons on to talking to him for twenty years during his prison sentence we should find things that would enable us to take measures which would reduce the murder rate and save the lives of the victims. But in hanging these men we cut ourselves off from this possible source of knowledge of help to the victims of murder.

The fourth word, "deter", is the crux of the whole thing. Abolitionists, as we all know, have held for many years that evidence from abroad has for long been conclusive that the capital penalty is not a uniquely effective deterrent against murder. Retentionists of the death penalty have been saying for years that we are not like those abroad; we are a different country economically; our national temperament is different; and there is this and that about us which is not so about those in Italy, Norway or certain States of the United States, New Zealand, India, or wherever it may be. Now we have this remarkable pamphlet which in effect closes that gap in the abolitionists' argument. It shows within mortal certitude that we are exactly like those abroad, and that in this country the death penalty is not a uniquely effective deterrent against murder.

It may be said that three years is not a very long trial period. But how much longer are we to go on? When you are dealing with life and death figures, although not statistically absolute proof which would satisfy the mathematicians, they are fairly indicative; and when dealing with the life and death of men and women, they are an indication as good as hard and fast statistical proof that the taking of life is not necessary. We have had the argument from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, which is one to which I attach a good deal of weight, that not only may hanging not be a deterrent to murder, but it may be in certain ways something approaching an incentive—this is completely incapable of proof statistically one way or the other—in that it jacks up the general level of interest in the death penalty, bloodshed and suffering all over the Press, in conversation in people's lives and the mythological substructure of everybody's personality, and particularly young people, in such a way that, if it has any effect on the murder rate, if it might be held that it probably has an effect in the wrong way. It is open only to hunches and not to statistical proof.

The last on the list of my five verbs is "avenge". Here the death penalty is uniquely effective. If a man has taken life, the most effective, obvious and satisfying form of vengeance is to take his life. I have no argument against that. I think it is true that if one accepts vengeance as a purpose proper for the State in its handling of convicted criminals, then the death penalty should stay for convicted murderers. For myself—and it is only a personal matter—I utterly reject the idea that vengeance is a proper motive for the State in dealing with convicted criminals; and I hope that, from the date of the publication of this pamphlet onwards, those who wish to retain the death penalty will admit that its only merit is precisely that of vengeance.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, when I entered the House I had no intention of taking part in this debate, and I do so really because I was moved by the plea of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to whom I always listen with great attention on this and other matters. He said how much more satisfactory it would be, from the point of those who took his view, if somebody who took a different view participated in this debate. Let me say at the outset that I do not speak as a convinced defender of the existing law: indeed, if any noble Lord will do me the honour of reading my speech on the Second Reading of what is now the Homicide Act, 1957, he will find that I said, with some approval from the Bench of Bishops, that I thought that a distinction between the two penalties on grounds that had nothing whatever to do with morality made this an immoral Statute. I do not, therefore, speak as a convinced defender of the existing law. But I remain still of the opinion that, on the whole, the death penalty for murder is right.

I am not going to deploy the arguments which I then deployed, but I would say to the speaker who spoke last—though I will not deal with all his five points—that the main theories behind punishment are retribution, prevention and reform; and it can be demonstrated, I think, to anybody who has studied moral or political philosophy that any single theory of punishment, if pushed to an extreme, will lead to absurd results. Punishment may well have more than one aspect. To take an example, if you intervene to stop some act of cruelty, it is almost a matter of chance whether you say, "I will teach him better manners", or, "I will teach him not to do that again", or, "I will give him his deserts". "Of course, in those three phrases we have expressed three different theories of punishment. I believe the most fundamental principle of punishment is generally what can be expressed in the two Latin words suum cuique—to each his deserts.

If retribution is not fundamentally right, then I do not believe that we can defend punishment on the basis of the other theories. In support of that proposition, on a previous occasion I quoted an article of Archbishop Temple. But my intervention this afternoon, in reply to the persuasive but, I think, in some ways erroneous speech of the noble Lord who opened the debate, is to point out that it has not been proved that the death penalty is not a deterrent. I do not complain of that because, of course, one of the simple facts of the situation is, in the nature of things, that we can never know how many people are deterred. That is a thing for which no statistics are available.


My, Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord, simply on a point of clarification? When he talks of a deterrent, he means a unique deterrent, I suppose.


No, I do not. I will come to that. I was saying that, whether unique deterrent or not, the number of those who are now deterred is something which can never be known. I do not differ entirely from the noble Earl when he spoke of a "hunch" in these matters, because I think ultimately we may, in estimating whether something is a deterrent or not, have to use a "hunch", because the most useful reports that can be put before us cannot give us any evidence of how many people are in fact deterred.


My Lords, that means that this is a matter which is incapable of proof.


Certainly. That particular matter of how many are deterred is incapable of proof. I admit that—that is my point. But it is so often said, "It has been proved that hanging is not a deterrent". It has not been proved that hanging is not a deterrent. It is quite erroneous to say that it has. I am not for one moment suggesting that that is conclusive against those who wish to abolish the death penalty. Of course I am not. What I am saying is that it simply is not true to say that it has been proved that it is not a deterrent. The abolitionist always says, "Ah!, but unless you can prove that hanging is a deterrent, then you clearly should abolish it." But, my Lords, if the point is: is it an effective deterrent and if it is not you should abolish it, then I would point out that nothing else either is an effective deterrent. If hanging is not a deterrent, neither is life imprisonment a deterrent. Therefore, the point we reach is: where nothing is a complete deterrent, what ought to be done? As nobody proposes not to punish murder, what should the penalty be? I find that personally an extraordinarily difficult question.

I agree substantially with a great part of the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Exeter. If we had to choose between a death penalty and life imprisonment that really meant life imprisonment, then I would regard the death penalty as in every way the more humane and the more justifiable. I am therefore in agreement with noble Lords who spoke from the other side in saying that, where life imprisonment is to be the penalty for murder, we should mean, as we mean at present, life imprisonment which may be humanely terminated after what is thought to be a suitable period. I am completely with them and with the right reverend Prelate in that view.

But then we get the very difficult question: if we were to abolish the death penalty and also say that the only penalty we intended to inflict for murder was a life sentence which would not in fact mean a sentence for the whole of the life of the convicted prisoner, then are we quite sure that we should not be removing a deterrent? The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to a speech of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, where he gave his impression of the minds of many criminals. I am bound to say that my own professional experience is so trivial compared with that of my noble and learned friend that my support will do him little good. I can only say that my impression is the same as his.

May I put this point for the consideration of noble Lords on the other side, who, I know, approach this difficult question sincerely and are anxious to come to the right conclusion? As is known, a great number of thefts are committed by professional criminals long engaged in crime. If they are detected and brought to trial, then they may be certain of a long term of preventive detention, if they commit no murder. If, on the other hand, they commit a murder, perhaps of a defenceless old woman, they may escape altogether, or if they kill the only witness of the crime. Can it really be suggested that, in those circumstances, the fear of a death penalty for a man who is already liable to be sentenced to a long term of imprisonment will not act as some deterrent? I should have thought that we are bound to say that the death penalty does act in some cases as a deterrent.

One of the reasons I did not intend to take part in this debate is that I have not given this document the study that I know it deserves. But, as I understand from speeches already made and from Press comment, some of the facts found in this study are that while some crimes have greatly increased, including, I think, theft, murder for theft has not increased in proportion. May that not be some evidence, even from this document, that the death penalty is some deterrent? Does the noble Lord wish to intervene?


My Lords, I was not quite sure what the noble Lord said. I understood him to say that murder with theft had not increased. My understanding of the position is indeed that it has, and that murder of men in the furtherance of theft has increased in proportion from 7.6 per cent, prior to the Act to 19.6 per cent. in the most recent figures.


Yes, I quite follow the percentage increase among murders. The proportion that I was dealing with in my speech—I am sorry if I did not make myself clear—was the ratio of increase in murders for theft to the increase of crimes of theft, because that seems to me one of the relevant figures in considering whether the present penalty is a deterrent. I think that the noble Lord will see the fairness of that comparison.

Having said I do not defend the present Statute, which I regard as making a fundamentally immoral distinction, I think there are reasons—which I am not going to repeat because I gave them at length in my speech on Second Reading of what is now the Act on the Statute Book—to reject the view that pit has been shown that the death penalty does not deter. How often it deters we cannot know, but I have given reasons for thinking that it does deter and that its abolition would lead to an increase in certain classes of crime.

There is one body which I think has some expert knowledge through direct experience of the thought and the practice of thieves, and that is the police; and if the police believe very strongly, as I believe they do, that the death penalty is a deterrent, I think it is a little conceited of us, who lead such sheltered lives, to say that they are unduly fearful and that they do not know.

I appreciate very much the tone of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who refrained from accusing those of us who take a different view of a lack of humanity. He pleaded in the end for a fresh consideration of the evidence. Holding, as I do, that the present Act is not fundamentally moral and therefore at some time will have to be reviewed, I join in the plea of the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I think it is right. I think the evidence should be considered; all fresh evidence, including everything contained in this document. But I believe abolitionists are entirely wrong in thinking that this document is conclusive against the death penalty being a deterrent in many cases, and it is better, certainly, than a life imprisonment if that really meant imprisonment for the rest of the man's life.

I would say just a word on vengeance. The principle of retribution—which I have described as suum cuique, the principle that a man should have his deserts, a principle which I have often heard supported from the Bench of Bishops and which is not at all un-Christian—is something quite different from private vengeance. But I would make this plea to noble Lords who take a strongly abolitionist view. I number among my friends many sincere abolitionists, and noble Lords who are abolitionists probably number among their friends some people who are quite humane but who believe in the death penalty. Let us, therefore, stop calling each other names. Why should it be supposed that those who defend the death penalty are people who believe in vengeance, whereas those who are prepared to condemn to lifelong imprisonment, in some cases meaning life-long imprisonment literally, are not to be named as people seeking vengeance at all? If one is vengeance, so is the other.

My Lords, I apologise if I have spoken at some length without having prepared a speech on this matter, but I thought that my noble friend—if I may call the noble Earl, Lord Longford, my noble friend, not meaning my political friend—made a plea that should be responded to, and that it was right that one Member, at least, who supported the death penalty should intervene in the debate this afternoon; and that is the only reason I have done so.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to those noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon in my absence that I was unable to be here to hear them. I understand that most of the speeches have been concerned with the argument for or against abolition. I intend this afternoon to deal with an entirely different aspect of this Report, but I should not like it to be thought that I have not considered the whole question of abolition; and, knowing the arguments that so many of my noble friends on this side of the House would put, I fully agree with them and do not wish to pursue any argument. I should simply like to make a statement that I regard hanging a man or woman by the neck until he or she is dead as barbaric as burning an epileptic as a witch. I regard both actions in a way as very similar, because they reflect the primitive fears of man. I think noble Lords will agree that all irrational fear is generally cast out by education; therefore I feel convinced that in due course the case of the abolitionists will prevail.

I have no doubt at all that this afternoon many aspects of violence have been mentioned. Indeed, it seems to Inc we live in an age of unparalleled violence. We open our newspapers in the morning and read of atomic bombs, of sensational human stories spiced with violence and sex. At night even the most respectable families in the country have a session with television in which violence plays a big part; at least one murder is committed on the screen every night before the family retires to bed.

I feel that most people are nauseated with an account of violent death and consequently they would view with some distaste this rather luridly-coloured pamphlet, the Report which has been published by the Home Office; and I confess that was my first reaction. But, having read it, I experienced a curious sense of relief, for this reason. There are many women to-day who are filled with apprehension when their young daughter goes out alone at night, even in a London suburb. But I believe that if this Report could be presented in the form of a documentary film it might well allay women's worst fears—I have not discussed this matter with noble friends and I am very pleased to find that I have such strong support from them—for I would say that this Report reveals that strange, brutal men are not usually the culprits in those cases where a woman has been murdered. The danger, it seems to me, is much nearer home. The fact is that among victims aged 16 and over there are nearly twice as many women as men because so many women are murdered by their husbands. Indeed, over 40 per cent. of women murdered are the victims of their husbands, and most of the remainder of relatives and associates. I am sorry to see one noble Lord laughing. He has a most curious sense of humour. I do not know whether he has anything in mind in the future.

I would also remind noble Lords of this fact which emerges from this Report: among children under the age of 16 the number of boys and girls murdered is about equal, since most of them are killed by a parent in a state of mental stress. Indeed, three-quarters of all child victims are killed by parents or an older relative. The most common method of killing children is by gas poisoning, owing to the number of cases in which a parent gasses his children indiscriminately—in fact, gasses the whole family including himself or herself.

Having digested these facts, I began to think of the crime fiction I have read. I am not very fond of crime fiction; I find it quite incomprehensible why people in the world of politics want to consume "Who dunnits". I like escape with my reading, but it seems to me that while crime fiction deals with the coldly calculated murder, the fact is that most murders are preceded by violent emotional storms culminating in quarrels or insanity or suicidal despair. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I quote an important passage which deals solely with the woman murderer. Like most women, I can understand the woman's psychology more easily than I can that of the male, particularly when she is ill and distressed. I would just quote this to your Lordships from paragraph 52: Among women offenders, an overwhelming majority killed members of their families in a state of mental abnormality, and the number of `sane' murderers was negligible. It is clear that, from the point of view of saving life, and especially the lives of children, seeking a deterrent penalty is less important than investigating the kind of mental breakdown that leads to family murders. It would be valuable to study the backgrounds of these families, with a view to finding out what stresses and strains they had undergone, and whether any agency could have helped them in time to prevent the tragic outcome. The suggestion is made that the backgrounds of these families where a murder has been committed should be examined with a view to securing more information which might have prevented the tragedy. But surely that kind of examination is a little late. We must anticipate events and endeavour to help those women who are constantly in a state of tension owing to a variety of circumstances. This Report should serve to stimulate local authorities. I would remind your Lordships that in this affluent State, in this modern world of ours, when it is suggested on some sides that people's lives have reached fulfilment, the fact is that one-third of the medicine and tablets consumed in this country is given for some form of nervous condition. This may be sleeplessness or a neurosis, including some psychosomatic complaints, or some more serious condition.

This Report indicates quite clearly—and I would assure your Lordships I am making no debating point; my deductions are simply from the facts quite clearly given—that murder, at least among women, is the culmination of months or years of nervous stress. Finally there comes a breaking point, and in a moment of frenzy she commits the crime against those she loves best. Indeed, there are other figures which show that her despair is so great after having done this that she takes her own life. I am not even going to be so humane in order to strengthen my argument as to say she takes her life as a form of retribution, but the facts are that in most cases she takes her life.

This little book gives us the statistics concerning those whose unhappiness culminates in murder. But what of those women, similarly distressed, who so far are only potential criminals? The woman who is suffering from some form of nervous distress is often desperately in need of an experienced, sympathetic doctor who can at leisure examine the patient and her environment; and I would say that the doctor who is able to give this specialised assistance should give it in technical terms but at the same time use the opportunity to explain the relationship between cause and effect, and be sure the patient understands what has contributed to her condition and how she may avoid or overcome adverse environmental factors in the future. In my opinion, in this way the doctor can immediately gain the co-operation of the patient and learn of her unspoken fears and questions. An attempt can be made to bring them out in the open and see that they are as far as possible resolved.

In parenthesis, here I would remind your Lordships that when we are thinking of the women who commit crime we must recognise that a large majority of them lead lonely lives, isolated in their own homes in rather dull surroundings for many hours every day. Also, one must realise that as the patient cannot be dissociated from family environment, whatever affects her is reflected in some degree by all other members of the family. Consequently, the doctor must also help the husband to understand his wife's emotional disturbances. The family doctor should be able not only to discuss symptoms of health but the economy of the home, for arguments over money, so we are told by the Marriage Guidance Council, are the most common cause of marital discord.

If we really are to tackle this problem instead of debating here the symptoms, if we are really to discuss what is fundamentally wrong with our society, then we must have people who have time. What I suggest calls for infinite patience on the part of the doctor, and undoubtedly a defect in the National Health Service is the limited time at the disposal of the general practitioner with a full list, for it is he who, in the first instance, sees the patient. I hope that what I have said will be read by the Ministry of Health. I think your Lordships will recognise that behind the smiles and attitudes, behind a manner which may indicate normality, very often lie fears, frustrations, despair, hopelessness, a longing for sympathetic understanding. If we read this Report, if we read the statistics of these desperate women whose despair finally culminated in murder, we are failing them if we do not say at a debate of this kind, "Now this problem must be tackled in a different way". Therefore, I welcome this Report, because it serves to focus attention on those whose medical needs are not recognised until a catastrophe overwhelms them.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, as usual in our discussions on this terrible subject, the whole thing seems to concentrate on how to let off the murderer or make it easier for him to get out of the law which is in existence to-day. I think that it would be a great thing if we could have a full investigation into whether hanging is the best thing having regard to incidents that occur almost every day. I wonder whether your Lordships would consider that an inquiry on this subject should be dealt with in this way. The murderer commits his crime in one of many horrible ways—strangulation, stabbing and so on. You could have an investigation on the lines that this man or woman has committed this horrible crime and is told, "Exactly what you did to your victim is going to happen to you." We could get rid of hanging, if that is what is wanted, but we could say to the murderer, "There are certain punishments that we are considering now. What you did to this girl, or this young man, or this victim of yours, is exactly what we shall consider with great care doing to you." This sounds a fantastic thing to suggest, but I believe that if we make some of these people who deliberately murder think, "If I kill this man I shall consequently suffer what I intend him to suffer", it will be what is so often referred to in these debates—a deterrent.

I should like to see an investigation on those lines. It might be a deterrent to the person who is contemplating murdering somebody and he may think to himself, "If I do this, if I stab this man or this woman to death, it may be that the same will happen to me". I believe the word "deterrent" would have much greater effect if that idea were in the minds of some of the people about whom we have been talking to-day. So that we might replace hanging by something better—I believe it is the only thing to do now—I suggest that we should have some such investigation, and then I believe we should perhaps instil a deterrent into the minds of the people who do these things. That is all I have to say.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I think I ought in the first place to apologise for not being in my seat at the time when my name was reached on the list of speakers, and indeed, I suppose, for venturing to take part in this debate at all, having been absent during a good part of the afternoon. On the other hand, this is a matter which has occupied my attention for many years and I have had the advantage of hearing quite a number of the speeches which have been made. So far as those go, I hope not to repeat the arguments which have been advanced in your Lordships' House this afternoon. If I should be repetitive in regard to those speeches which I have not heard, then I hope I may have your forbearance.

The speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down struck me as being really quite fantastic. Was he suggesting that a murderer who had murdered by stabbing should, in his turn, on conviction, be stabbed? I do not believe you could find an executioner in the world—certainly not in any civilised part of the world—who would be prepared to act as executioner in accordance with such a ghastly duty. I thought when he started that he was asking for a full investigation into the whole problem of capital punishment, and it crossed my mind that we did have one—probably the most careful investigation that has ever been made in any civilised country, the Gowers Commission Report, the evidence for which took four years to collect, not only in this country but in foreign countries, and in the end that Report came down, I think conclusively, against capital punishment.

I do not this afternoon want to address my remarks mainly to the problem of capital punishment at all, although that is the way that the debate has gone. I was glad that my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford intervened to put the other point of view, and I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him in most of what he said. I remember well his argument about the deterrent aspect and, as a matter of logic, he is perfectly right. But if I may say so, in our profession I think we are a little too apt to rely on logic in regard to these matters. One of the greatest Common Law Judges ever, said that "the life of the law is not logic", and indeed great decisions are not made on purely logical grounds. I suggest that there is ample empirical evidence, some of which shows in this Report before us to-day, which would, I think, persuade a person whose mind was completely open—if suddenly our minds could become completely open on these problems which we have taken a line about for so many years—that the case for capital punishment being such a deterrent has now fallen to the ground. Certainly I suggest that there is sufficient cogent evidence to persuade politicians and statesmen that we should fall into line with the other civilised countries who, over the last hundred years or so, have one after another abolished it.

I want, as did my noble friend who resumed her seat just now, to devote most of my speech to the actual Report from the Home Office. I welcome this warmly. Indeed, I think it has been welcomed by almost all your Lordships who have referred Ito it to-day. It has been a great encouragement to those of us who are interested in these problems of penal reform that the Home Office has been going in for research work over these last years. This is one of the results of that work which I think contains a great deal of most valuable material, presented on the whole in an objective sort of way—a Report which undoubtedly should be of the greatest assistance to the Government and to Parliament when next year, five years from the passing of the Homicide Act, the time comes to review the whole situation, as the noble and learned Viscount promised us would be done at the time when we had the Bill before us.

Here and there, I think, the Report perhaps gives the impression of having been put together rather hastily. Also here and there it conveys the impression, perhaps, that it contains the work of more than one mind. I think that this is especially so with the summaries, particularly the Summary at the end of the Report. This made me rather wonder whether some of the reflections, so to speak, had not been put in, after the research reports had been received in the Department, by some civil servant who was a member of the administrative staff rather than of the research team who were doing the work. Some of them certainly give the impression that the writer had not completely mastered the material in the Report itself, and had perhaps been rather politically concerned to insert passages which might, at a later stage, prove to be politically useful in connection with debates which might go on in Parliament. Of course, that is not a reprehensible attitude at all, because it is very natural that matters of that sort should enter the mind: but I think that it does cut down a little the value of this Report as a scientific work. I hope I am not being unjust.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he has in mind paragraph 74?


Yes, my Lords, I aim just coming to it. I hope I am not being unjust to somebody, but I am not the only one who has had this impression—and I am interested to hear that my noble friend Lord Taylor seems to have, had it as well. I have not talked to him about it at all, but I have talked to other people who are interested in these problems outside your Lordships' House, in the universities, and I find that there is this impression about it. I think that particular passage to which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred, paragraph 74, is a very good example of what I mean. May I just read it? It says: The figures are small, but they suggest that the distinction made in the Homicide Act is operating as intended, in that capital murderers are mainly thieves who kill in pursuit of criminal activities,…". Surely, my Lords, the object of the Homicide Act was to apply the deterrent of death—the so-called deterrent of death—to an area where it was felt that it was most likely to be effective: that was, to frightening burglars and such criminals from carrying lethal weapons with them when they were engaged in their nefarious activities. But, as has been pointed out already, it has been singularly ineffective in this objective, since, as appears from one of the earlier paragraphs, paragraph 40, there has in fact been, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said—and others have echoed what he said—a marked increase in, the proportion of those killed for robbery or financial gain. I think those are the exact words used on page 22 of the Report. So that the Homicide Act is not operating as was intended at all. It is exactly the opposite. I think that that paragraph must have been added by some civil servant in the Department, because the people who conducted the research obviously were not of that view at all, as appears from all over the Report.


My Lords, might I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment to ask if he would agree that this paragraph might be rephrased to read: The Homicide Act is operating as intended, in that those who commit capital murder are being hanged and those who commit non-capital murder are not being hanged"?


Obviously, it might, but whether it would convey any- thing of value phrased in that way I do not know.


My Lords, may I put one point? Does the noble and learned Lord not think that this comparison is important: he has referred to the earlier passage in the Report dealing with the proportion of capital to non-capital murders, but may it not be that what the writers of this Report had in mind in the final paragraph was the figure to which I drew attention—namely, the relation of the number of murders in pursuit of theft to the increase in the number of thefts?


If that is what he intended, he ought to have said so. I would not myself have thought that that was the natural construction to put upon it at all.

The only other criticism of the text of the Report which occurred to me in reading it through was the comment on shootings on page thirteen, which seems to me to be slightly misleading, or which might be slightly misleading. It suggests that murders by shooting have gone down quite a bit—something like fifty per cent. Now the Report does not pursue the argument, but this might obviously be used as an argument in support of the policy of making killing by shooting capital murder, which was adopted, of course, in the Homicide Act. But if you will just look at the relevant Table, which is Table No. 10, you will see that this apparent drop all depends, really, on one particular figure—the very exceptional figure for the year 1956, when there were six cases. That was most unusual. In all the other years, I think, there is an average of only one per annum. Moreover, the six cases in 1956 were clearly not of the most heinous type, because it appears from the Table that five out of the six were actually reprieved, and that the sixth one was detained at Broadmoor, Ramp-ton or somewhere; so not one of the six was in fact executed.

Indeed, the Report makes it quite clear, I think, that most killings by shooting are by suicides or by mentally abnormal people. It makes it perfectly clear: it uses quite strong words about it. Indeed, I think it is safe to say that the Report demolishes the case for retaining the death sentence for murder by shooting. There is nothing clearer in the Report than the demolition of this particular case. There are very few cases of murder by shooting, and practically all of them are not the sort of cases which the supporters of the capital sentence for homicide had in mind when they insisted on putting this particular clause into the Bill.

The Report also seems to substantiate the finding of the Gowers Commission that murder, as a crime, falls into a class completely apart. Here, I re-echo, though perhaps with rather a different emphasis, the argument of my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford. The general and alarming increase in crimes of violence that we are continually discussing in this Chamber is not, of course, reflected in the murder statistics except for the unusual year of 1960. It has been suggested to me—and I think this is a point which ought perhaps to be investigated a little more carefully—that one element to account for this is the vastly improved medical attention which the victim now receives. That undoubtedly, I think, leads to the recovery of a number of people who, not very long ago, would no doubt have died: and as a result of the recovery, of course, the criminal is charged with causing grievous bodily harm, or some other such crime, and not with murder. There may be a point there which possibly would be worth investigating.

I agreed very much with what the noble Lady said about the most valuable light which the Report throws on all sorts of what one might call subsidiary studies of this problem, which undoubtedly have not really received sufficiently careful attention in debates in the past. Indeed, I feel that if we could only get rid of this beastly death sentence and get it out of the way, we should be in a much better position to get down to a proper examination of the terrible problem of homicide. Because it is obvious that the capital murder type of case is only a minute fraction of the whole, and I think that comes out extraordinarily clearly in this Report, and is particularly emphasised in the passage which my noble friend, Lady Summerskill read to your Lordships. If we could only get rid of our perennial worry and the tiresomeness of the subject of the capital sentence itself, we might be able to do a good deal towards discovering what, in the large majority of cases where killing takes place, the psychological factors behind it are, and then we should be well on the way to removing them and cutting down the present number of murders, which is going on for 200. to a comparatively insignificant figure.

I turn to the study of the victims, of the girl victims. As the noble Lady pointed out, these are almost always murdered by members of the family, but one would not think that from reading the papers. I think that that is not deliberately vicious. This attitude taken by the newspapers is one of the main factors in this problem. The Report points out that cases of this sort often occur in a series. Some small girl is sexually maltreated and murdered and that seems to set off a whole run of them. This would not be so if it were not for the fact that all the newspapers come out with the revolting details of these things and put into the minds of these abnormal members of the community evil thoughts which lead to other small girls being maltreated and murdered in this way. If we could only get a sense of discipline in our Press, how much nearer we should be toward getting rid of this dreadful type of crime!


My Lords, would my noble friend make it clear that even the series referred to is, happily, a very tiny series.


My Lords, I thought I did. The Report brings that out perfectly clearly; that almost all these children who are murdered are killed by their parents or by relatives as the result of domestic difficulties; and the number who are killed in the sort of way the newspapers would like us to think was rampant all over the country are a minute fraction. I agree with the noble Lady that if this could only be got over to the people of the country, it would be an enormous relief to hundreds of thousands of mothers.


But you must not criticise the Press!


You must not criticise the Press? That is a new one to me—There are very many good things to say about the Press, but also a number of very critical things to say about the Press.


My Lords, I only wish to emphasise the point that the Press is very touchy about criticism. They can criticise everybody else but they must not be criticised themselves.


My Lords, I think they stand a good deal of criticism. They have to, because they are going to get it at one time or another.

I think most of the points which arise from the Report have in fact been made, and I should just like to conclude by saying that I think the more valuable researches of this kind that we can get from the Home Office Research Unit, the better off we shall be. I would repeat the congratulations which I gave to the Home Secretary during the debate we had on prisons and borstals a week or two ago. I congratulate him on the work he has done in building up this Research Unit at the Home Office, and I congratulate him on the work which it has already done, as exemplified in the Report which we are debating this afternoon.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble and learned Viscount replies to the debate, in view of the remarks which have been made from several quarters this afternoon about the activities of the Press I wonder whether he could help us on that particular point. Are there any methods, Or have we any powers, by which we can prevent the more lurid details of these cases from being published by certain sections of the Press, which has been suggested may act even as an incentive to certain types of murderers? Are there any methods by which such reports can be controlled? The reason why I ask the question is that I think I am right in saying that a method of control does apply now, and has for a good number of years, in divorce oases, where particularly unsavoury details are suppressed or are not published. Just the bare facts are reported. Something of the same sort might 'be 'helpful if this could be done in certain types of murder cases. I do not know if that is a point on which the noble and learned Viscount could help us.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and myself are probably unique in that we are the only two speakers among those who have spoken in this debate who have never before addressed your Lordships on the subject of murder, unless there be also to be included my noble friend Lady Summerskill. So I must at once make a small declaration of interest. I am not an emotional opponent of capital punishment. I am a pragmatic utilitarian. If capital punishment does any good, I am reluctantly compelled to put up with it, and, indeed, play whatever part one has to play in it. But I must say I think the evidence is getting very thin.

The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, made a most interesting speech, and it was good that we had somebody who is not only in favour of capital punishment but is against the Homicide Act. The present situation stems from the Homicide Act. It has certain virtues about it, but certain grave and great inconsistencies, which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, was not slow to point out. However, where I take quarrel with him is on the question of the nature of the evidence upon which decisions of this sort are bound to 'be based. In medicine we are very familiar with the kind of evidence which we get in this Report, and it is the kind of evidence Which does not normally arise in a count of law. It is evidence whereby we get presumptive proof of something; we do not get absolute proof. We get it time and again when a new substance is tested out to see if it works in curing or preventing a certain disease; and really the Homicide Act may be regarded as a "new substance" which is being tested out in some disease—the disease of murder.

Here we are being shown in respect of the first three years whether it works or not. This is precisely the kind of thing we get when a new vaccine against poliomyelitis is introduced. We have to undertake very careful therapeutic trials, which we like to have if we can, where we can control a series. We cannot always do that, so we have to rely on sequences in time. The things before an event that we are going to change represent one pattern; we change the event and then watch what has happened to the subsequent pattern. That is the best we can do with murder, and the best we are likely to do; and we shall never know how many are deterred, as the noble Lord says. But that is not really the point. What we have to decide is this: is our new remedy any better than the old remedy, or can we get a better remedy for preventing and getting rid of the crime of murder? And if the remedy in itself is abhorrent and repulsive, and if it is not doing any good, we obviously ought to get rid of it.

Like all my noble friends, I welcome this Report, the fourth of a series of first-class reports which the Home Office Research Unit is producing. It is a splendid thing that we should be getting real sociological evidence, though sometimes I feel it is a little hard on the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who has to turn his mind to studying these sometimes trying statistics and evaluate whether they are statistically significant. I must say that I myself do not know whether some of these are. It is a whole new world that is being thrown upon us, which we must study if we are to make reasonable and reasoned judgments about the therapeutic value of various forms of punishment and legal action.

I should like the noble and learned Viscount, in his reply, to view this Report as a rider to that excellent television programme, "Documentary on Murder", which the B.B.C. showed two or three weeks ago and which perhaps the noble and learned Viscount had a chance of viewing. It was an honest, succinct and decent programme on the whole subject of murder, as any noble Lord who saw it will have realised. The very point that the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and my noble friend Lord Huntingdon raised about the police was discussed, and very effectively, first by the Chief Constable of Birmingham, then by the Secretary of the Police Federation, and last by a Norwegian policeman. It was a wonderful little episode. The Chief Constable said that he was very doubtful whether capital punishment really deterred, but his men thought it did; then came the Secretary of the Police Federation, honest fellow, who said that they were sure it deterred; and then the Norwegian policeman, who said that in Norway they had got rid of capital punishment and they did not want it back. Norwegian policemen were not armed and they never had any trouble about it. It was a series of frank statements by people who knew.

There followed a remarkable sequence concerning an American convict prison, where twelve or fifteen murderers sat in a discussion circle. One could see their bland, egotistical appearance and they kept referring everything to themselves—"I felt an impulse to do this", "I had something in me which had to be expressed"—that sort of thing. The psychology of murderers began to emerge before our eyes in a remarkable way. Then we heard statistics for different states given by an American professor, a Danish professor and Dr. Trevor Gibbons from Maudsley, and other experts. The conclusion left in my mind is the same conclusion as is left by this Report—namely, that the case for capital punishment is getting very thin. I think that capital punishment will finish within five years' time. I do not think it will finish because we are being emotional about it, but because the facts are proving that it just does not work. It is such a nasty thing. I know that when I lived at Holloway, my wife and I used to have to take the children away from the house for a day or so because of the awful crowd of psychopathic, horrible people who assembled outside when capital punishment had to be performed. They still assemble there and it is a pretty degrading spectacle of humanity, which does not do any good.

We have had a very interesting debate. I thought the speech with which my noble friend Lord Stonham introduced it was a model one. He told us the facts in this Report and showed how non-capital murder, without capital punishment applied to it, seems to have declined and how capital murder, with capital punishment applied to it, has increased, though they are small changes either way. There is a tiny group which remains rather constant year in and year out. There is the group of ladies about whom my noble friend Lady Summerskill spoke passionately, and rightly, because of the terrible human tragedy which lies behind the state of psychotic depression, a state of mind in which there is a complete lack of any hope, in which the future for them and everyone else is blank and bleak. When women are in this state, which is so common after childbirth and at about the change of life, terrible tragedies occur. Action is required about this, because it is more important to deal with this than to deal with the psychopathic murderer.

There is the group, to which my noble friend referred in passing, the substantial proportion of murders, in which a husband kills his wife. This is a sad situation. Often it is the culmination of years and years of marital difficulty, not all on one side. There is a nagging, incredibly difficult wife. One would think that the normal reaction to that situation would be for the husband to leave her. Why do these men not leave their wives? They stick on because they are the meticulous, obsessional type, who believe that they have to endure their married life. But in the end something happens, and bang—they go and murder their wives. Often the aggression has gone out of them after that and they are normal citizens from then on. They represent "the little man", the worm who turns. They used to be hanged, but no longer. They usually get off because it is not capital murder—though accidentally it may be, if there should be a gun about and they shoot their wives.

There is a strange group of people, to which my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger referred in an earlier debate: the psychopathic murderers, who suffer from diminished responsibility. If we are going to assess wickedness, they are the most wicked. There are the sexual psychopaths, who indulge in horrible crimes such as assaulting small girls. As a general rule, they are accepted by the courts as having diminished responsibility and they get off. If we are going to hang anybody, it might be thought that they should be the candidates, but I should think it absolutely wrong to hang them, because something has happened to their minds. From some point in their lives they have grown up warped in some way.

The other type of psychopath is the aggressive, violent psychopath, and among those who are now hanged is a small proportion of this type, who do not get off with diminished responsibility mainly because they have committed previous crimes. When an aggressive psychopath has committed previous crimes and then commits murder the plea of diminished responsibility is, in practice, very unlikely to succeed. He is hanged. You may say it is a good thing to hang psychopaths, although I do not think it is. It certainly does not do anybody else any good, and it does not inhibit the psychopath from committing further crimes. That is what is likely to happen. But just push the balance a little further, and they are in the diminished responsibility sphere and get off.

The situation is, as paragraph 74 of the Report, to which my noble friend Lord Chorley referred, shows, that in a sense the Homicide Act is working with regard to the normal offender who is not M'Naughten mad—that is to say, not mad in the old sense of the M'Naughten rules. Judges and juries are accepting diminished responsibility as a reasonable plea, and it is quite right that they should. But it is making capital punishment look sillier and sillier. I should say that this Report marks the beginning of the end. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Kennet when he says that this marks a turning point in the whole business, because this is reducing it to a scientific matter. We are getting the scientific evidence of the working of this Act.

I do not deny that the Act has many virtues. I would much sooner hang very few people and produce no change than hang a lot of people and produce no change, which is what we used to do. I would say that this is a great advance, but that we must advance this little step further. And the way that we shall do so is by the continuation of the work of the Home Office Research Unit convincing my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and all right-minded men that this business of the treatment of murder is something we must do scientifically and humanely and not with our own lower emotions in sway.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, expressed his disappointment that there was not an inter-play of views contrary to each other in the earlier speeches. I do ask him to note—not, believe me, for a moment in any spirit of reprobation, but to explain the position—that we are debating to-day a Motion to take note of this Report. I think that that has at least two conceptions. The first is that people should have a true picture of the extent and nature of the crime of murder. I am extremely glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, developed that line of thought, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Chorley, to some extent also, because I agree with the noble Lady, apart from the issues that divide us, that this Report eases the burden of the fears of many people who—I hesitate to use the word "exaggerated", because again I do not wish to criticise, but who thought that the worst types of murder were far more prevalent and increasing more than they really are. I am going to ask the House to bear with me if I develop that side of the matter, the true position of murder in our modern social life, at a little more length than I should otherwise have done. Of course, the second question arises (and again I take no objection to it) of the desirability of the present state of the law; and I shall have some considerations to put before your Lordships on that point.

I should like to follow the noble Lords, Lord Stonham, Lord Chorley and Lord Taylor, in saying a word on the subject of research itself. I agree with all of them that in discussing a subject such as murder it is important to have the full factual information as clearly as possible before us. In the past we have had a certain amount of information about murder which has been available in the annual volume of criminal statistics presented to Parliament and elsewhere by the Home Office, but there have been many gaps in our knowledge. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that the Report of the Home Office Research Unit (and I would say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Chorley, that the Research Unit were responsible for the whole of the Report) has filled the gaps and greatly enlarges our knowledge, not only of the extent of murder, but also of such matters as the kind of people who commit murder, their motives, their methods and their victims.

Despite some very limited criticisms, I think your Lordships will agree that the Report is based upon a statistical inquiry and gives plain unvarnished facts about murder as revealed by academic research, using recognised statistical methods, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said; and this comprehensive analysis will be of great value to any future consideration of the crime of murder. If I may round that off, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for giving us so early an opportunity to discuss this matter.

I should like to tell your Lordships how the investigation arose. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary directed his Research Unit to undertake the investigation early this year, at a time when there was considerable disquiet about the incidence of murder. I think it shows, not for the first time, what a useful step my right honourable friend took when he decided to set up a research unit in the Home Office to carry out inquiries of this kind as well as to undertake long-term research on a large scale and so co-operate with the universities and other bodies in their research projects. If I may just recall one matter, because I think it is fairly apropos, noble Lords may remember the excellent Report Time Spent Awaiting Trial that was prepared for the Streatfeild Committee. It has provided a basis for some of their most important recommendations, and, in turn, these have been embodied in the Criminal Justice and Administration Bill which I hope to move in your Lordships' House on Monday next. So this is not isolated, but part of an important process.

I agree with what has been said more than once: that most people derive their knowledge of murder from their reading of the Press. My noble friend Lord Mersey asked me as to powers. Apart from the law of obscenity and the Act of 1926 which deals with divorce, I cannot, in the time that has elapsed since my noble friend spoke, think of any other powers, nor could I be reminded of any. There is the old power, of course, of a magistrates' court sitting as a committal court in private, but that is not used to prevent the publication of undesirable matter; it is used to protect the interests of children or where prejudice to the defendant might ensue. If I have omitted anything, I assure my noble friend that I will write and let him know.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble and learned Viscount, but the point of my question was also whether it might not be desirable to consider taking additional powers.


That I am quite prepared to consider, but one has the instinctive inhibition of centuries of struggle the other way against putting any limit on the freedom of the Press. After saying that I will consider it, it would only be fair to tell my noble friend that that is the bent of my mind.

In January of this year the newspapers appeared to report with more than usual frequency some particularly unpleasant murder. The feeling grew that there had been an alarming increase in the number of murders committed, and that this increase was perhaps attributable to the operation of the Homicide Act. The statistical information then available showed that the number of murders which became known to the police in the month of January was in fact high. But it was known that the monthly figures were subject to large and unexplained fluctuations, and the January figures were not abnormally high, taking one month with another, and could not by themselves be taken as an indication of a particular trend. So the Research Unit were asked to carry out an analysis of recent murders to see whether in fact there had been any increase in any particular kind of murder. Obviously, all noble Lords who are here now have read the Report, and I do not want to weary them with a detailed account of them, but I think it would be useful and would help us to set our discussion in the right perspective and to present the picture as a whole if I summarised briefly the main conclusions reached. I shall, of course, try to do it as objectively as possible.

Before I do this, I remind your Lordships of the difficulty which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham: that When you attempt to compare numbers of murders committed in periods before and after the Homicide Act, you have to bear in mind the fact that the Homicide Act affected the definition of murder in a number of ways. As the noble Lord said, by far the most important way was the institution of the defence of diminished responsibility. That defence results in a verdict of manslaughter instead of murder, and the Report shows that the number of such verdicts have been considerable. In 1960, for example, of 'the 166 cases recorded by the police as murders no fewer than 31 resulted in a finding of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility; and, indeed, it appears that that defence has to some extent replaced the defence of insanity under the M'Naughten Rules, to which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred.

The proportion of those committed for trial who were found by the count to be mentally abnormal to a serious degree—that is to say, either insane or suffering from diminished responsibility—has been little changed as a result of the operation of Section 2 of the Homicide Act. The proportion was 47 per cent. for the years 1952 to 1956 and 46 per cent. for the years 1957 to 1960. But it is not possible to say exactly how many of the diminished responsibility cases would have been held to be murder before and after the Act. Therefore I think everyone agrees that the statisticians have done the right thing in basing their figures on the total figure.

The first point of interest—I am not for the moment going to argue about how it counts at all—is that the Report shows that the annual average number of murders was 130 in the years 1931 to 1940; 152 in the years 1941 to 1950, and 149 in the years 1951 to 1960. But between 1931 and 1960 there was a 15 per cent. increase in the population of England and Wales, to which the figures in the Report relate. If this increase is taken into account, the murder rate is seen to have remained remarkably steady over the 30-year period, and in fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, reminded us, the annual average number of murders per million of the population was 3.2 during the period 1931 to 1940 and 3.3 during the period 1951 to 1960. One ought to emphasise that at this point, because there are a lot of people who believe there has been a steep rise, and it is very important, from the standpoint of our general social understanding of our life, that that point Should go, whatever results should flow from its going. I want to make it quite clear that I agree on that point.

So much for the long-term trend. Looking to the more recent past, the average annual number of murders in the years 1954 to 1956, the last three complete years before the Homicide Act came into operation, was 143. In the period 1958 to 1960 the annual average, including the cases of diminished responsibility, was 160. That shows an increase over the earlier period of 11 per cent. The 1960 figure of 166 was high, but not unprecedented, and as the annual figures, like the monthly ones, show wide fluctuations which cannot be explained, no particular significance can be attached to it. The Report takes us up to the end of last year, but I can tell noble Lords that from the figures at present available it does not appear that the incidence of murder this year has been markedly different from that in 1960.

As I say, the first undeniable and important point is that it is clear that there has been no alarming increase in murder generally, and that there are no grounds for the fears which have been expressed. It is true that there has been some increase in the last few years when we should all like to see a decrease; but this can hardly be a matter for surprise when it is remembered that in the same period there has been a sharp rise in crimes of violence generally. Many murders are acts of violence which have had fatal results not intended by the offenders, and one would expect an increase in crimes of violence to be accompanied by an increase in murders; but an interesting point revealed by the Report is that the latter increase is so much smaller than the former. Comparing the periods 1954 to 1956 and 1958 to 1960, we find that while the number of murders increased by 11 per cent., the number of crimes of violence against the person increased by 69 per cent., and I think that the explanation of this is to be found in the parts of the Report which deal with the reasons for which murder is committed.

Let us look at another point which has received a great deal of attention, the predominant relationships of murderers and the murdered. The investigators examined detailed records of all murders committed during the years 1955 to 1960 and this examination revealed these facts: that female victims outnumbered males in the ratio of six to four; and among children under the age of 16 the number of boys and girls was about equal. As I think the noble Baroness said, about three-quarters of them were killed by parents or other relative. Among the victims aged 16 or over there were nearly twice as many women as men; and gain I agree with the noble Baroness—this is a point worth mentioning—that over 40 per cent. of the adult women victims were killed by their husbands and most of the remainder by relatives or other persons with whom they were associating in one way or another. Adult male victims were less likely to be killed by relatives, and about half of these were killed by strangers. Nearly one-third of all the victims were killed by persons who committed suicide. These were mainly family murders and very largely cases in which children were killed by a parent in a state of despair or mental stress. Quarrels, violent rage, insanity and suicidal despair accounted for most murders, especially murders of children.

I listened with great care, as I always do, to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, but I do not think he made out a strong case for saying that housing and economic conditions had a great effect in this matter. I thought he himself picked up the fact that there had been a great improvement in these conditions, and of course it is a fact which we are all accepting that the rate has really remained unchanged. With regard to his other point about home life and duties, we have discussed that over and over again on crime generally, and, again with great respect to the noble Earl, I should not like to assume it has great relevance on the subject before us to-day, but I am not prepared to dogmatise on the point.

I have already mentioned that just under half the persons committed for trial were found to be suffering from some mental abnormality. Apart from a small number of shooting cases there has been no general complaint as to the way in which the murders which I have just been describing have been dealt with. Those who require mental treatment have gone to mental institutions; the others have, under this Act, been convicted of non-capital murder and sentenced to imprisonment, and of course they are dealt with in the most suitable way. So that as far as that group of murders is concerned, apart from a small number of shooting cases, which are small, absolutely and relatively, nobody who is endeavouring to make a case against the Homicide Act can make it there.

The next point to consider is what inferences are to be drawn, and I want your Lordships to know that I have tried to be objective and to appreciate all the facts. I accept the picture which emerges from the Report that murder is predominantly a family crime in which a defenceless relative is the victim of an attack by a person who acts in a state of despair or mental stress, and who often takes his own life also. This, and not the brutal attack by a stranger for his own selfish ends, which is perhaps what most people have in mind when they think of murder, is the most common kind of offence. I accept that, and from that I proceed to consider the further matters. Nevertheless, one-fifth of all offenders were mentally normal persons who killed strangers, and one cannot underestimate the seriousness of that. I am glad to see in your Lordships' House that not for one moment has the atmosphere of the debate given what, to me. is a horrible attitude of apparent sympathy for the murderer and no sympathy for the victim. I should like to make it clear that I do not attribute that in regard to anyone who has spoken today.

I want to take up only one other point before I go on to the inferences themselves. One ought again to have in mind that murderers with a sexual motive, about which there was special public concern earlier this year, averaged eight a year. These were not all cases in which the victim was previously unknown to the offender. On an average, only three out of the eight were children under the age of 16. I think it is important to have that in mind, because a lot of people are really worried and afraid that there are a large number of sexual murders by people unknown to the child in question. Again your Lordships will not be mistaken in my attitude. I am not saying that even that number is not serious. But I am saying that we ought to have a true general picture before us on this point.

The Report was not prepared with a view to considering the need to amend the law, but it does throw some light on the working of the Homicide Act. As the debate has shown, it is natural that those who are dissatisfied with the Act and who either advocate the abolition of capital punishment or would like to see some extension of its scope will look to see what support the Report lends to their respective cases. The Report compares under the various headings the figures for the period January 1, 1955, to March 20, 1957, a period of a little over two years immediately before the Homicide Act came into operation, with the period from March 21, 1957, to December 31, 1960, a period of nearly four years immediately after the Act came into operation. I ought to explain that it was not possible to take a longer period before the Act because the detailed homicide returns on which the investigation was based were not provided by the police before 1955.

In the study your Lordships see the main findings. Less than 15 per cent. of all murders are of the types now defined as capital murder and the proportion has not changed since the Homicide Act. Nor has there been any significant change in the age and sex distribution of victims. Up to the end of 1960 29 persons had been convicted of capital murder. Twenty-one of those were convicted of murder in the course or furtherance of theft, five of murder by shooting and three of murder of a policeman in the course of his duty. In addition, one offender was sentenced to death under Section 6 of the Homicide Act, having been convicted of two murders committed on different occasions. Of these 30 persons 19 were executed, 8 were reprieved and 3 were ordered to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure, being under the age of 18.

Now, my Lords, I ask you whether one should not attach more importance than has been attached in the speeches this afternoon to the fact that 79 per cent. of the men convicted of capital murder had previous convictions of other offences and most of them had been convicted on more than one occasion. The corresponding figure for those convicted of non-capital murder was 55 per cent. Those convicted of capital murder were mainly persons who killed in pursuit of criminal activities. The majority killed for gain, and the number of murders committed for robbery or financial gain rose from six a year to twelve a year after the Act. Murder by shooting decreased slightly after the Act. It was among the least common methods of killing, and it was mainly used by those who committed suicide or who were mentally abnormal.

These are the main findings which have a bearing on the working of the Homicide Act. What conclusions are to be drawn from these findings? I suspect, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, that those of all shades of opinion will find in the Report something to support their own views. But there is a real danger of over-simplification. Those who wish to see capital punishment retained and perhaps extended can point to the fact that the number of murders has increased since the Act was passed. Although the increase is small by comparison with the increase in crime generally, who can say that it would not have been larger and might not have matched the big increase in the volume of crimes of violence but for the deterrent effect of the death penalty? That is a view which is largely held, and I think that states it fairly.

I want to pause on only two points. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, said that you only had capital punishment from a combination of the generally conservative nature of our people with their possession of a Conservative Party. I am not going to argue that point at length with the noble Lord. I would only say that I am not ashamed of taking it as a general proposition, although there is an exception in the history of my Party. But I am not going to accept that it is always better to make a leap in the dark than to stand still. I think there is an argument for having some intellectual basis and reason for making a change before you make it. But, of course, my real answer to the noble Lord is this: that we do our best—and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said how difficult it was to do—to approach the problem without prejudice, without preconception. That is our effort; and we state, when called upon, our reasons for the solution which we set.

We had some argument on retribution—not so much as we have had on previous occasions, and I refer to the most important statement on that point of the former most reverend Primate, Lord Fisher of Lambeth, when he gave evidence before the Royal Commission on capital punishment. Undoubtedly it is one of those things that will be argued so long as 'philosophical disputation exists. I put it this way because this is the way I was brought up: if someone treats society merely as a means to his own ends, then society can be justified—as I think the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Exeter conceded in theory—in putting him outside society, and if his use of society for his own ends was sufficiently heinous of, putting him outside completely by taking his life. I do not want to argue that, but I mention it, because I hope that, on reflection, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will accept what my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford urged, that we are chary of imputing less excellent motives to those whom we oppose, and that to call it revenge or vengeance is really to do less than justice to the wide thought on every constituent of punishment that has been given. I agree again with my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford that ever to attempt to limit punishment to one of the ordinary elements is to court failure; to give a different emphasis to one element but to ignore them all would be wrong.

These are the arguments that would be advanced by those who believe not only in retention but extension from the present position. As we have heard, those who would like to see capital punishment abolished point to the unchanged murder rate over a long period of years—the support that that lends to the view that murder is a crime apart, in that its existence does not fluctuate with changes in the general level of crime—and they will also point to the fact that there has been no increase since the Act in the, proportion of murders of the kind now defined as non-capital.

Those who support the compromise between the two extremes which was reached in the Homicide Act can, I think, point to three things. The first is the conclusion that the distinction created by the Act is, generally speaking, operating as intended, since those convicted of capital murder are mainly persons who kill in pursuit of criminal activity. As I said before, murder has been shown to be predominantly a family crime, and the sentence of death is no longer passed for the great majority of such murders, for many of which it is on any view inappropriate. Then, although there has been an increase in capital murders committed for gain, mainly, as I pointed out, by persons, with criminal records, this increase is a good deal less than the increase in crimes of violence against the person during the same period.

I think we all agree that statistical information is most important, and I am sure that the statisticians would be the first to warn us of the danger of drawing too hasty conclusions. I need not go into it all again. That is well shown by what the Report says about murders by shooting, which are capital murders. The proportion of shooting cases has fallen since the Homicide Act. Your Lordships will see that I am not even putting that forward as an argument, for the reasons I have given—that a large number of the shooting cases are those who are mentally abnormal or commit suicide. I am not talking now about the decrease, but if you take the point which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, made, that it was absurd that shooting should be included in the category of capital murder when it is used mainly by persons who are unbalanced and rarely by criminals—even then, can it not equally be argued that the fact that murder by shooting is capital murder acts as a strong deterrent to the carrying of guns by criminals, and so tends to confine the criminal use of guns to unreasoning persons who are not to be deterred by the threat of the death penalty?

As I have said, the value of the Report is that it arms us with certain information previously lacking which is relevant to any debate on the future of capital punishment. It does not provide, and we could not expect it to provide, the answers to all the questions. Even if all the statistics pointed in one direction—and I do not think they do—there would be many other considerations to be taken into account. The Report throws much light on the working of the Homicide Act. In answer to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I assure the House that a close watch will continue to be kept on its working, and not only on the facts but on the arguments that have been advanced. In the meantime, it remains the view of Her Majesty's Government that it is too early to consider any amendment of the Act, which was the result of much anxious consideration and earnest debate in your Lordships' House and in: another place.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Chorley, gave half a quotation, I think if my memory is right, from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Junior, that the law is not logic; and the learned judge went on to say that it was not logic but life and experience. I ask your Lordships to believe that I am not being dogmatic in the sense that I present a bolted and barred door of the mind. On the other hand, I am bound to use my own experience in so many different capacities and the knowledge I believe I have acquired, as evidence in making up my mind. It would be wrong and senseless if I did anything else. I ask your Lordships to remember that the principle on which I presented the Homicide Act was that it contained the minimum number of capital offences which were compatible with the preservation of law and order. I know that you can criticise. For example, I have been criticised time and again for excluding poison. I studied it for weeks. I wish your Lordships who have condemned my illogicality would study the same point and find a form of murder by poisoning which covers only that of poisoning for gain (which occurs so seldom), and does not cover the mercy killing, gas poisoning, all those things that no one in my lifetime has thought was a capital offence and should be punished by death.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that he approached the mind of the criminal in a different way. But if you believe, as I do, that the professional housebreaker or burglar would carry a gun—I use the words that he quoted—or hit an old lady over the head if there were not capital punishment, how can I disregard that as immaterial? The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, raised—and this is a good old argument which has served its purpose in this field over and over again—the views of my judicial predecessors, especially Lord Ellen-borough, of 150 years ago. We do learn. One can only learn, and this is one of the matters which must be considered: the death penalty attaches to murder because murder now is a crime of its own kind and pinpointed by its results.

My Lords, these are all serious matters. We will consider what has been advanced and, as I said, we will consider not only the facts but the arguments. My right honourable friend has commissioned me more than once to tell your Lordships that that is his view—and that is the process he will follow. In the meantime, I can only once again, on behalf of your Lordships, thank those who have prepared the Report and, for myself, thank the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for initiating this most interesting debate to-night.

6.51 p.m.


My Lords, I think that since we started with ten certain speakers and fourteen speakers have taken part, it is a sign, as the noble and learned Viscount has just suggested, that this has been a useful debate. I am quite sure that your Lordships will agree with me that time may well show that the most useful part of it was the noble and learned Viscount's own contribution. I should like to say a word of thanks to all those noble Lords who have taken part. But before I do that, very briefly indeed, may I mention to the Lord Chancellor his promise to write to the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, about the possibility of some limit being put on the amount of Press publicity in the event of these sexual murders of children?


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? This is a most friendly interruption. What I said to the House and to my noble friend was that I would write to him if I found that I had made any mistake in stating the law. I will, of course, if I have not made a mistake—it is limited in that way—convey the point to my right honourable friend, and we shall consider it together. But on the second point, on the promise of alteration, I ask the noble Lord to bear in mind what I said about the freedom of the Press. It is a most thorny subject. I am sorry to interrupt.


My Lords, I entirely agree with what the Lord Chancellor has said. In fact, I was going on to say that if anything of a practical nature emerges from his consideration, perhaps he will take steps in some way to let the House know. I am fully aware of the difficulties with respect to the Press. I would also say—the noble and learned Viscount may well think that this certainly does not come under this particular heading—that in those cases (far more numerous, unhappily) where children are sexually assaulted but not murdered, there is not only a very great deal of nauseating publicity but the child has inflicted on it a number of examinations at various stages of the law, many of them in public, which probably leave a mark on the child for the rest of its life. I should have thought that, without in any way interfering with the freedom of the Press, it would be a very practical way of limiting publicity in these matters if a child had to appear only once; and I hope that the noble and learned Viscount will give consideration to that. It is a matter, of course, which he would have to discuss with his magistrate colleagues and others, but I think it is a matter of considerable importance.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, who came in at such very short notice. Although they appeared to disagree with what I might call the general tenor of the debate, at least they both felt that further inquiry would be an exceptionally good thing. I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, for what he said, and for in fact revealing that he had very considerable doubts about the present position—and, indeed, the moral basis—of capital punishment. The inquiry called for by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, was of a somewhat different nature, and gives rise to somewhat bizarre thoughts. I refer to an investigation into the question of the murderer being threatened with having his own crime inflicted on him. I think that there would be grave practical difficulties in getting people to apply particular kinds of punishment. I cannot imagine any executioner consenting to, shall we say, kicking another man to death, or something of that kind. I would suggest that the idea is totally impracticable.

I feel that this debate has been of extreme value, in the words of the Lord Chancellor, because it has emphasised a number of things of which, apparently, the public are not aware. All of us get impressions without evidence. One sees a placard today, saying: Eighty-one persons killed in an air crash", and there immediately comes to one's mind the multiplicity of these air crashes, and it builds up in one's mind. It is much the same way with murder: it builds up in people's minds. It is therefore important that it should have been said with such authority that the total number of murders is small; that more than two-thirds are committed by people who are insane or in some way not wholly responsible for their actions; and that. in the words of the noble and learned Viscount, murder is very largely a family crime. These things are unhappy, they are tragic, they are deplorable; but, at least, they are not the kind of thing which is in the public mind, and are not the menace of which so many people are frightened. Above all, they are not the kind of crimes which can be dealt with by deterrents, because they are completely and absolutely involuntary.

I should like, in particular, to thank the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Exeter. In this, I speak as an Anglican, and I want to thank him very deeply and sincerely for having at last made clear what I have always regarded as the Christian position in this matter, and the position with regard to our own Church. I have never heard the position more explicitly stated; and I thought that his mention of the Lower House of Convocation of Canterbury as representative of most of the clergy in Southern England was most impressive. I am quite sure that that is a fact to which the Government will give all the attention it deserves.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. I feel sure it has been a useful debate which will repay study. It would be a disservice to the cause and to your Lordships if I continued to comment further. I will therefore express again my thanks to all who have taken part for the contributions they have made to what I believe has been a very useful discussion. I hope and believe that this debate will be the beginning of a movement which will have the result of ending capital punishment within this country in less than the five years which my noble friend Lord Taylor predicted. It is in that belief that I ask for leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at seven o'clock.