HL Deb 05 August 1965 vol 269 cc405-25

2.55 p.m.

Report of Amendments received (according to Order).

VISCOUNT DILHORNE moved, before Clause 1, to insert the following new clause:

Release on licence of those sentenced for murder

".—(1) The Secretary of State may release on licence subject to compliance with such conditions, if any, as the Secretary of State may from time to time impose, a person serving a term of imprisonment for murder who has served five years imprisonment.

(2) The Secretary of State may at any time by order recall to prison a person released on licence under this section, but without prejudice to the power of the Secretary of State to release him on licence again; and where any person is so recalled his licence shall cease to have effect and he shall, if at large, be deemed to be unlawfully at large.

The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, I am not really sure that we ought to be discussing this Bill to-day as, according to to-day's The Times, it has already passed through your Lordships' House. I read that with interest at breakfast this morning. Your Lordships will remember that, during the Committee stage, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Wadding-ton, moved an Amendment the effect of which was to give a Judge discretion as to the sentence he passed on a conviction of murder. That Amendment was widely supported, and supported, be it noted, by many in favour of abolition of the death sentence. I am sure that the whole House was impressed by the arguments for the Amendment which were advanced by the noble and learned Lord. Everyone knows that a life sentence does not ordinarily mean a man spending the rest of his life in prison; and the general impression (which is, I think, supported by statements made by the Home Secretary which I have already quoted) is that ordinarily a life sentence means something of the order of nine years, unless the prisoner would on release be a danger to society.

In view of this belief the passing of a long determinate sentence is, I think, on some occasions likely to prove a more effective deterrent. Logically there is no reason, once capital punishment has been abolished, why a Judge's powers, when a man who has murdered is found to be of diminished responsibility, should differ from his powers when the murderer has not diminished responsibility. Logically there is no reason for Judges, when sentencing for murder, having different powers from those they have when sentencing for attempted murder. The difference between the two cases is simply that in one the victim has died and, in the other, has survived.

But two criticisms were advanced on the Amendment moved by the noble Lord and carried into the Bill. The first criticism this Amendment in my name and in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, is designed to meet. The second criticism is, in my belief, largely theoretical. The first criticism is really, I think, this: under our present system, if a life sentence is passed, a man can be let out on licence at any time; whereas if a determinate sentence is passed he has to serve two-thirds of it, unless the Royal Prerogative is exercised, before he can be released on licence. As I said on Second Reading, I have long thought that this is wrong; and it is something I should like to see changed. I should like to see the Home Secretary have much wider powers of releasing on licence in all cases—and not just in murder cases—where long sentences have been imposed. But this Bill deals only with convictions and sentences for murder; and it would not be right to seek to make this Bill a vehicle for such a general change, however desirable it may be—and I think it is very desirable indeed. This Amendment, therefore, applies only to where there has been a conviction for murder.

I should like to make this clear since it may not be readily apparent from reading the terms of the Amendment. The effect of it is to superimpose on the present system a power to release on licence any person sentenced to a term of imprisonment for murder after that person has served five years in prison. The two-thirds rule will still continue to apply where two-thirds of the sentence is less than five years, but no matter what the determinate sentence may be in excess of five years, this Amendment would give the Home Secretary power to release a man on licence after five years in prison.

The present position is, I think, very unsatisfactory. If a man is sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment, he cannot be released on licence until he has served 20 years and it may not be in the public interest that he should serve this length of time. I do not doubt that sometimes it is right and necessary to pass a long sentence or a very long sentence, to mark the gravity of an offence. I do not doubt, either, that such sentences, when imposed, have an immediate deterrent effect. Everyone knows that such a sentence will mean imprisonment for a long time, and I do not think that the deterrent effect of a long sentence is affected by the fact that if the prisoner behaves himself. he will be released on licence after he has served two-thirds of it. Nor do I believe that the deterrent effect of a long sentence would be materially affected if the power of the Home Secretary to release on licence were enlarged.

I must confess that I do not know why the line was drawn at two-thirds of the sentence imposed. It seems quite arbitrary, and as I have said, I believe that it could operate contrary to the public interest. May there not be cases where, if a man could be released earlier on licence, it would help in his reformation? Suppose a man is sentenced to thirty years' imprisonment and at the end of ten years the prison authorities, the Home Secretary. the Lord Chief Justice and the trial Judge think that he has been punished enough and is not likely to go wrong again. We have it on the authority of the Home Secretary that signs of breakdown become apparent after a man has been in prison for nine years or so. Is any useful purpose served by keeping such a man in prison for another ten years? It may be said that I have taken an extreme case, but in all long-sentence cases may there not come a moment before the expiry of two-thirds of the sentence when, if a man was released on licence, he would lead a decent, honest life, but, if that opportunity is not taken, and he remains in prison, all chances of reformation might be lost? I think that there should be a Parole Board to advise the Home Secretary in all these cases, but I gather that does not, at present, meet with the approval of the Home Office. I must confess that I cannot understand why. I should have thought that any Home Secretary would welcome advice from an impartial, authoritative body on such questions.

I hope that I have said enough to explain the object of the Amendment. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, for putting his name to it. If we could get this Amendment inserted in the Bill, I do not think that it would be long before this principle was generally recognised in all cases where long sentences had been imposed. This Amendment meets one criticism of a change made in the Bill in Committee; it does not attempt to meet another criticism, which is that if a determinate sentence is passed, it may result in the release, on the expiry of the sentence, of a person who would be a danger to society and who might kill again.

My Lords, I believe that that criticism is largely, if not entirely, theoretical. I should be interested to know whether it has ever happened. Is there any known case of a man convicted of attempted murder who has attempted to murder or kill on his release, after he has served his sentence? Where a Judge had any doubts about a man's future conduct in this connection I should think it certain that he would pass a life sentence, and only in exceptional cases would he pass a determinate sentence. As I have said before, I think that behind this whole matter lies an important principle. It is the function of the judiciary to decide what sentence should be imposed, but they have no discretion in relation to capital murder. I think the reason is that Judges have always been opposed to any suggestion that the grave burden of deciding whether a man should die or live should be placed on them. I can see no logical reason for fettering the powers of a Judge in a capital murder case, for limiting them when the conviction is one of murder, and giving him far less power than he would have if the conviction were one of attempted murder. I think that the change, making it essential that he should pass a life sentence, and leaving it entirely to the discretion of the Home Secretary as to what that means, is a change of importance and not entirely desirable.

My Lords, I do not think I should say any more in exposition of this Amendment, but I should like to add that since it was tabled there have been tabled on the Order Paper Amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, one of which reverses an Amendment which the noble and learned Lord moved in Committee. No doubt we shall learn from the noble and learned Lord what has led him to take that course. It is, I think, unusual to move an Amendment during the Committee stage and then to seek to cancel an Amendment which was carried on a Division, but if the noble and learned Lord has, for reasons which no doubt he will tell the House, changed his mind, and his Amendment (which is Amendment No. 2 on the Marshalled List) is accepted, I recognise that this Amendment will be out of place. I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord has taken that course. I thought that the Amendment which he moved in Committee was a very good one, and it was supported by a majority in this House. I think that the Amendment to-day is not nearly so good.

Whatever may happen with regard to the second Amendment I am moving this Amendment because I hope that on this occasion I may get some answer from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to the question about extending the powers of licensing. Your Lordships will remember that I raised the point during my speech on Second Reading, and I think that I touched on it again during the Committee stage proceedings. The noble Lord has many other matters to deal with, but so far I have not had an answer, and if any excuse is needed for raising this matter again to-day, I crave that in aid. My Lords, I move this Amendment and, whatever else may follow from it, I hope that at least I shall hear something from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, amounting to a recognition of the desirability of making some change on these lines in the present system of releasing on licence. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Before Clause 1, insert the said new clause.—(Viscount Dilhorne.)

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, I think that the noble and learned Viscount needs no excuse at all for raising this very important matter of the extension of licensing for long-term prisoners, and I can only apologise if, having raised it on several earlier stages of the Bill, the noble and learned Viscount has not had a reply from me. I will do my best to answer him on this occasion if, perhaps, not wholly to satisfy him.

Your Lordships will recall that when last week I unsuccessfully attempted to persuade your Lordships not to insert an Amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, I cited what I regarded as three major objections to it. The first was that, with the abolition of the mandatory life sentence, murder, in the eyes of the public, would cease to be a crime apart. Secondly, if a murderer was sentenced to a term of years, the Home Secretary would be unable to hold him in prison after that term had expired, even though there was still a serious risk that after release the prisoner might commit another murder or serious crime. My third objection is one that the noble and learned Viscount has now dealt with, that a fixed term would prevent the Home Secretary releasing a man before it had expired even if the man was fit for release. The noble and learned Viscount has now made it clear that his intention by this Amendment is to remove that last disability. The Government, and I am sure noble Lords also, warmly welcome his constructive and helpful attitude in this matter. But, in my view, even if this Amendment were accepted, it would still leave the Bill, as it stands at present, open to the two remaining objection, which I regard as serious.

The noble and learned Viscount asked me if there was any one case of a man who had attempted murder, had later been released from prison, and had then committed a murder. I am sorry to say that, without notice, I cannot answer that question. But within my knowledge there are two cases within this century—and fortunately only two—of men who had murdered and were released and who then committed a second murder. And in one of these two cases, that might not have happened, if the Home Secretary had been able to exercise his powers.


My Lords, were not both those cases where men had been released by the Home Secretary on licence?


Certainly these are the only circumstances under which a murderer could be released. Although it is not clear from the noble and learned Viscount's Amendment as worded, he has indicated that it means that he wants a prisoner to stay in prison for at least five years, as distinct from five years less remission. But I do not want to pursue the technicalities of the Amendment and discuss whether it can be said to have that meaning, because, as the noble and learned Viscount indicated, if Amendment No. 2 is accepted by your Lordships, there will be no necessity for the Amendment we are now discussing.

In introducing the Amendment, the noble and learned Viscount raised the much wider and important question of whether some system of discriminatory release on licence, similar to that which has been used with some success with murderers serving a life sentence, could be extended to prisoners serving long sentences for other offences. That question, of course, is outside the scope of the present Bill and would be a matter for further legislation. Your Lordships will be aware that before coming to the Home Office I took a particular interest in prisoners serving long sentences, especially those in preventive detention. The noble and learned Viscount will realise that I am sorely tempted to follow the lead he has given. All I can say to-day is that the Home Secretary is studying the question of new and more flexible forms of treatment for medium-term and long-term prisoners, and that, as a Minister, I personally have spent more time working on these plans than on any other subject. But since they have not yet reached their final form, I cannot reveal any details. I can, however, say that we warmly welcome the views of the noble and learned Viscount and if, as I hope, your Lordships support them, we shall not find ourselves far apart.

With regard to the other point raised by the noble and learned Viscount, I am in a somewhat similar difficulty. In dealing with the licensing of medium-term and long-term prisoners, he suggested that there should be a Parole Board to advise the Home Secretary about releases on licence in individual cases. Again thinking aloud, I would say that our past experience of nearly equivalent bodies does not encourage me to support that suggestion. Your Lordships will remember that a former Home Secretary, the right honourable Mr. Henry Brooke, abolished the preventive detention advisory boards in 1963. They used to recommend whether a preventive detainee should be given the hostel system and released after serving two-thirds instead of five-sixths of his sentence. These boards included prison visitors, senior probation officers and, in some cases, psychiatrists, as well as representatives of the Prison Commission. But, as was pointed out in the Report on preventive detention by the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders, these boards and their decisions were a cause of bitterness, unrest and misunderstanding to prisoners, who found it difficult to understand or accept the boards' decisions and, in the judgment of their own Chairman, they were not successful in forming reliable opinions about the potentialities of individual prisoners.

It might also be thought that if legislative provisions for the licensing of medium-term and long-term prisoners were to be introduced, either at present or in the near future, it would be wise to keep them as simple as possible, until the Royal Commission on the Penal System has examined the whole complex of problems relating to sentencing and reported. If implemented, however, the noble and learned Viscount's suggestion and this Bill, in the form in which I hope finally to see it, will help towards the achievement of the penal system which the Government have in mind—namely, a system which will serve the public interest by awarding severe punishments when they are necessary, but which never loses sight of the possibility of the reclamation of offenders.

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I think that the intention of this Amendment is extremely good, but there is one point which is not quite clear. Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount would explain it to us. It would seem from the first paragraph of the Amendment that anybody serving imprisonment for murder cannot possibly be released until four or five years have elapsed. What I have in mind is the occasional case which is sometimes called a "mercy killing" when perhaps a mother puts an end to the suffering of an imbecile or a painfully ill son. It would seem to some of us that in such a case, provided that the motive of mercy was proved, such a murderer should not serve even a five-year sentence, but might be released after six, or even four, months. I put this forward as a tentative suggestion, and I wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount can explain this to us.


My Lords, may I draw attention to what seems to me to be a drafting defect in the Amendment? Surely the last three words of subsection (1) should not be "five years imprisonment" but "five years of that term of imprisonment". Surely the correct meaning of this subsection, as now printed, would be that if a man had ever served five years' imprisonment, for any offence what ever, and was then sentenced to imprisonment for murder, he could be released on licence, could he not, by the Home Secretary on the day after he was sentenced, because he had in his life served a term of imprisonment of five years? I do not think that could possibly be what is intended, but that, I think, would be the result of adopting these words.


My Lords, I do not think it is the result of the clause as now drawn, reading the subsection as a whole; but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, that it might be made clear beyond a doubt if the last part of the clause were altered as he suggests. This was drafted in the hope that it would make quite clear what one had in mind. One could not set out in this new clause exactly how it would apply in relation to the present system of licensing. But I did say in moving the Amendment that this clause was intended to enlarge the Home Secretary's powers, and would be superimposed on the present system; that is to say, if the man was sentenced to a term of imprisonment two-thirds of which was not in excess of five years, he could be let out under the present system when he had served two-thirds of that sentence. That would still happen. This provision in no way restricts the release on licence of persons sentenced to short terms of imprisonment, but it is intended to enlarge the power so that, no matter what sentence he has been given, once he has spent five years of that sentence in prison the Home Secretary should then have power to release on licence. I hope I have cleared up the point for the noble Lord.


My Lords, I am afraid it is not altogether clear to me. The noble and learned Viscount seems to assume, quite rightly, I think—it would usually happen—that in the case of a difficult mercy killing the Judge would take the humane view and probably inflict a very short sentence. But what I have in mind is where a sentence of ten or fifteen years is given, where there seems to be no possibility of the prisoner being released after five years.


My Lords, in the case the noble Lord has mentioned I do not think there would be any chance of the original sentence being anything like as long as that. If it was the sort of case that he has put forward, one would assume that it would be five years or less, in which case the ordinary two-thirds rule would apply.


My Lords, may I take this opportunity of associating myself with all that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, has said about the need for reviewing long sentences, whether they be for murder or for any other type of offence. I am sure that this is an urgent necessity. I should also like to support the noble Lord in the hope that this review may be done by means of a Parole Board, who would clearly have all the available information from prison officers, medical experts and the like. I should hope that the Government, knowing the feeling of so many of us, would invite the Royal Commission on Penal Reform to study this question and make an Interim Report so that legislation could be introduced.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, as the Member of your Lordships' House who introduced this Bill, I should like to say how much I appreciate, as many of my colleagues do, the large concessions which have been made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, in his present Amendment, in comparison with the Amendments that he moved in Committee and the attitude he took at earlier stages of the Bill. I find myself to-day in the extremely happy situation—and I might say a little unexpectedly happy situation—of being in agreement with at least three-quarters of what the noble and learned Viscount has said. I should like to assure him that both on what has been called the "hot air" side of this House, and, equally, what I understand has been called the "cold feet" side of this House, there is a strong sentiment in favour of some system of review of long-term determinate sentences. Maybe if the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, feels strongly about this, and if he is not satisfied with the measures which may come in due course from the Government Benches, he will avail himself of the opportunity to introduce a Private Member's Bill dealing with the topic.

But in view of the trend in your Lordships' House, I think that perhaps we ought to remind ourselves at this stage that this is not a Bill on sentencing policy; it is a Bill primarily to abolish the death penalty. While the noble and learned Viscount may have great sympathy with the rather radical changes in sentencing policy, particularly on the flexibility of determinate sentences that he has suggested, we must, I think, ask ourselves whether it is wise to make these radical changes through what is, after all, the most serious offence of all—namely, the offence of murder. Would it not be much better to reserve this topic, and to review it in the context of parole boards, determinate sentences and flexibility of sentences all together, and to have in mind at the present juncture only the question of the appropriate sentence for those who have committed the gravest crime of all?

I think, in view of later Amendments on the Marshalled List which stand in the name of the Lord Chief Justice, that the primary object of the Amendment which is now before your Lord ships' House might be achieved, though in a slightly different form, in the context of those Amendments. I wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, might be willing to withhold his Amendment at this stage, in order that your Lordships may have an opportunity of possibly expressing your general sympathy with the concept of flexibility by your approval of the Amendments which appear later on the Marshalled List.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, for what she has said, and for the fact that for once she finds herself so much in agreement with what I said. I hope that this will be repeated, and I shall be glad of the opportunity to give her the lead on future occasions. The only matter on which rather differ from her in was what she said is as to my having made concessions. I am not aware that I have conceded anything. In fact I put this forward in the course of my Second Reading speech. and I think I have been entirely consistent about it. Indeed, I urged this years before this Bill ever saw the light of day.


My Lords, I should be sorry to be thought to be misinterpreting the noble and learned Viscount. I had in mind that a good deal of play was made by him and other noble Lords about a mythical figure of nine years earlier in the debates, and I notice that the figure of five years is in the Amendment. I had in mind that perhaps this was a concession.


I am glad that the noble Baroness has explained that. I was not particularly wedded to the figure of five years, but I thought that would give the Home Secretary ample power to act properly; and if I put in too high a figure, again it would suffer from the arbitrary line like such as exists with the two-thirds rule.

I am grateful to the House for the way in which it has received this proposal, and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, for speaking in support of it. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for what he said, in which he held out, if I understood his words correctly, real hope that a change may be made and that this could be made to apply throughout the whole field in the near future. I hope that it will not be delayed. I should be sorry (I do not know how long it will take the Royal Commission to report, but one knows that Royal Commissions take a considerable time to report) if this change had to be held back until the final Report of the Royal Commission. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to adopt the suggestion made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, and see whether he can encourage the Royal Commission to make an Interim Report on this matter, in which event it may be possible to introduce some change on these lines before the Final Report is received.


My Lords, may I be allowed to deal with this extremely important point? I made it clear in my speech that we thought, before adopting a very complex solution, that we should await the Report which we hope to receive from the Royal Commission on the whole subject of sentences. With regard to the point put to me by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, the position is that we expect the Report of the Royal Commission to deal with this subject. It is for the Royal Commission itself to order its business, but naturally we will see that this suggestion is put before it; and, indeed, a member of the Royal Commission, my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger, is immediately behind me. Finally, I should like to say, in reply to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, that it is the Government's intention to go ahead in due course with the plans we have in mind.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that last statement. I am not quite sure how I interpret it, but I hope I interpret it aright as meaning that action will be taken pretty promptly. That being so, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, that it would be much more desirable to have a provision of this sort in general legislation, and not to seek out one category of offence for this change. If I had not got this pretty clear (not entirely clear) promise, I should have thought that perhaps there was something to be said for putting it in this Bill and making it certain that it was done in another Bill.

I do not think it is necessary for me to deal with these criticisms of drafting. If it was necessary for me to do so, I would rebut these charges that it is badly drafted. In the light of what has been said, I would ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw this Amendment. One can see what will happen to the later Amendments, and then, if need be—I do not think it will be likely—we can put something of this sort down on Third Reading. I would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1:

Abolition of death penalty for murder

1.—(1) No person shall suffer death for murder, and a person convicted of murder shall, subject to subsection (4) below, be liable at the discretion of the court to imprisonment for life.

3.32 p.m.

LORD PARKER OF WADDINGTON moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "liable at the discretion of the Court" and insert "sentenced". The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, if I may, I will deal with Amendment No. 3 together with this Amendment. Your Lordships will remember that at the Committee stage I introduced an Amendment which would enable the trial judge to give a sentence, not merely of life imprisonment but, in suitable cases, of a fixed determinate sentence, the idea being that in a suitable case a long sentence might be given which would act as a deterrent. That Amendment was carried in your Lordships' House, albeit by a small majority. I still think that it is right in principle and indeed, logical. But, as it was carried, I did not have the opportunity of moving an alternative Amendment which would, I think, meet many of the criticisms of those who were against the Amendment which was carried.

As my noble and learned friend Lord Stonham has said, there were really three criticisms, or fears. One was that murder was still a unique offence and should be marked by a unique penalty, in this case life imprisonment. Secondly, there was a fear, I think exaggerated, that judges might give what some people thought were inordinately long sentences, and that there is at the moment no machinery for review. Thirdly—and I think this was the point which largely influenced those who voted against the Amendment—that there might be cases in which the Home Secretary would have to release a prisoner who had served the determinate sentence, less his remission, even though he might feel that it was unsafe to do so. I now beg to move the alternative Amendment, which means restoring subsection (1) of Clause 1 as it was originally, and adding Amendment No. 3. I think that this will meet the criticisms raised.

Murder will still be the only offence which carries a fixed statutory sentence, the life sentence. The Home Secretary will continue to exercise his power to release on licence, and to detain if it is felt that a man is unsafe to be let loose. All that the judge can do is to recommend—not fix—a minimum period, and that, I think, leaves the Home Secretary completely unhampered. At the same time, it preserves the right, for which I have been striving so long, of the trial judge to mark the gravity of the offence, the revulsion of public feeling, in a proper case by giving what appears to be a very long sentence, which it is hoped will deter others and afford some protection to the police, in particular. This alternative Amendment is a compromise, and I venture to think that it is a compromise to which no reasonable person can object.

On February 26, 1962, I received a letter from my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, then Mr. Gerald Gardiner, Q.C., in which, if I may quote, there is this passage: Suggested solution. I am wondering whether any reasonable person would object to the following proposal as a compromise to meet all views: namely, that if capital punishment for murder is abolished, the alternative should be (a) a sentence of imprisonment for life; (b) subject to the Home Secretary's power of release whenever he thinks it both right and safe to do so and, (c) but not before such term of years as the trial judge may fix. Your Lordships will notice that the noble and learned Lord went a little further in saying that the trial judge should fix the minimum. I do not propose to suggest anything quite so drastic—merely that he should "recommend."

What argument can there be against this? I conceive only two possible arguments. The one may be that a prisoner who is not let out by the Home Secretary after he has served the minimum period recommended by the judge should feel in some way aggrieved. Why he should feel aggrieved I do not know—it is a minimum period. Anyhow, are we to throw away a reasonable compromise merely because we think that some prisoner, some day, somewhere, may, unjustifiably, feel that he is aggrieved? Secondly, there is the possible argument that the Home Office—or, rather, the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary—might feel in some way inhibited by receiving a recommendation from the judge. I think it is quite clear that no Home Secretary would desist from acting on clear, definite information before him merely because a trial judge. perhaps ten years before, had marked the severity of the offence by giving a long minimum period. But if it causes the Executive to pause, to think again, and to look at the case again, then, I venture to think, so much the better. After all, it is not dissimilar to a restrictive order which a judge can impose in making a hospital order under the Mental Health Act. The Home Secretary can allow the patient out at any time, but the presence of the restrictive period means that the Executive must take a second look at it. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 7, leave out ("liable at the discretion of the Court") and insert ("sentenced").—(Lord Parker of Waddington.)


My Lords, if these Amendments are accepted, as I hope they will be, Clause 1, with one important exception, will be restored to the condition in which it came to us on Second Reading. Her Majesty's Government and, I have no doubt, the sponsors of the Bill wish unreservedly to accept and welcome them. I acknowledge also with most grateful thanks the exceptional efforts of my noble and learned friend Lord Parker of Waddington and the high degree of co-operation which he and others have shown in making this happy solution possible. Personally, I was delighted to hear the Lord Chief Justice refer to me as his noble and learned friend. "Friend", I shall delightedly retain; "learned" I must, unfortunately, disclaim. I can only think that something of the aura of the Home Office has rubbed off on to my most unlearned person.

I entirely agree with my noble and learned friend that this is the right solution. There will still be a mandatory sentence, the life sentence, for murder. The Home Secretary, or the Secretary of State for Scotland, in the exercise of his primary duty to protect the public, will retain complete discretion to release a murderer after a short or long period, or not at all, but will at all stages be able to avail themselves of the advice of the Judiciary. In making a recommendation as to the minimum period for which a murderer should be detained, the Court will be expressing the view it has formed, both of the relative seriousness of the particular crime and of the degree of public danger inherent in the convicted person. As I understand it, the Committee could recommend anything from a very short sentence to a very long one. Recommendations, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice said, will make an impression on the public mind if they are for a long term, and I think that they will make an impression, too, on the type of criminal who has figured frequently in our discussions on this Bill.

Secretaries of State will not be bound by a recommendation but they will take very careful account of it from the start. They will also retain full discretion with regard to release, but under Clause 2 they will have the great advantage of pre-release consultation with the Lord Chief Justice or the Lord Justice General, and with the trial judge, if he is available. In my view, these consultations will be of particular value to the Secretaries of State in those cases where it seems to them, on the basis of the facts then known, that the public interest demands that a prisoner should not be released at the expiry of the recommended minimum, or alternatively that he should be released before the minimum period has expired. Prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment, if released, will, of course, always be subject to recall.

Finally, on behalf of the Government, and, I trust, with the explicit agreement of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, I must make it clear that the recommended minimum period will not necessarily mean the maximum period. There will certainly be understandable pressure on the Secretaries of State by the prisoner, his representatives, and others interested in his case to release him on the expiry of the recommended minimum period. Nothing will prevent pressure of that kind from arising, but on behalf of the Government I take this opportunity of declaring that when a person has been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and the Court has recommended a minimum period which he should serve, there should be no automatic expectation that a prisoner will be released on the expiry of that minimum period.

My Lords, it would be unfortunate if, on this, as I regard it, happy occasion I were to end on that grim note. Therefore, I prefer to remind your Lordships of a comment in the Daily Telegraph leader on July 20, under the heading of "Lords and Gallows", in which we were reminded of Chesterton. It was suggested in that leader that we might have had a superlative chance for vindicating Chesterton's maxim that being born is a universal experience and that those who owe political power to nothing else are by definition more representative than those who earn it by submitting to an elaborate process of election. The Daily Telegraph expressed the hope that we should not succumb to that temptation: and we did not.

I do not know whether it was because of that quotation, but certainly on Second Reading I ventured to suggest that we might agree the Bill without Division. On that occasion some people thought that was over-optimistic, but I hope no-one will think I am being over-optimistic now if I express the view that on Third Reading this Bill will not be opposed.


My Lords, I am unhappy in my mind about one question: what exactly is meant by "a very long sentence"? I hope I am not given a very long sentence for saying so, but I think that anything in excess of twenty years is nearly as terrifying as the horrible practice we are now abolishing.


My Lords, I will not seek to define "a very long sentence" but I am sure we can agree that anything over twenty years comes within that description.

I listened with the greatest interest to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, said in moving this Amendment. Of course, he had this Amendment on the Order Paper in the Committee stage. He brought on two runners in the race then and was only prepared to run one, and, if I may say so, he put back the horse that he thought was the better of the two. A lot of us followed his lead. That horse ran very well. I think it got round the course the first time and might indeed have got round a second time in another place. But, however that may be, the noble and learned Lord has now obviously come to the conclusion that the second horse is the better of the two, and he has suggested that no reasonable person could possibly object to that second horse.

My Lords, I hope I am still a reasonable person. I must say I slightly prefer the first horse. I do not think there is all that much in it, but I believe that if a judge could pass a determinate sentence it would be likely to have a slightly more deterrent effect than just to say, "The minimum I think you will serve will be …"—whatever it may be. However, this is marginal and if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice is content with this Amendment, which I think improves the Bill, if now he believes that this horse is a better runner than the one he backed, and we backed, following his lead last time, I certainly shall not oppose this Amendment. I am certain that this Amendment, if carried into the Bill, would make a desirable improvement, although I should be willing to support him if he still wanted to risk some money on the horse he backed earlier.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I do not feel equal to maintaining the racing metaphors which have been started by the noble and learned Viscount Lord Dilhorne, but I sometimes think that your Lordships' House presents a model of democracy which might well be copied—shall I say?—in other places We now have the spectacle of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, having carried the Amendment of his first choice, forgoing the sweets of victory and substituting the Amendment of his second choice in order to meet some criticisms which were made on the part of those who, on an earlier occasion, voted against him. As one of those who so voted I should feel it very ungracious not to acknowledge that democratic gesture. I would assure your Lordships that this Amendment meets with our approval, though perhaps I still have a little hankering and preference for the Bill without it.


My Lords, may I have a straight answer to the question which I have asked? Can a sentence of more than twenty years be given? If so, it is wicked.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord is perhaps going back to the earlier Amendment. There is now no question of a determinate sentence. Under the present Amendment there will always be a life sentence and complete discretion.


My Lords, as an ordinary Member of your Lordships' House with a special interest in this subject, may I say, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice has said, that some two or three years ago I had some correspondence with him and the then Home Secretary to see whether I could achieve some accord between them as to what the consequence should be if capital punishment were abolished. I venture to hope in regard to these Amendments—and although, strictly speaking, only Amendment No. 2 is before your Lordships, No. 3 goes with it—that your Lordships will be able to accept them. Strictly speaking, even now there is nothing to prevent a judge from expressing an opinion of this kind when passing sentence. Judges have not done so in the past, and it would be proper that, if there is to be a change, it should be one embodied in a Statute. I should have thought that no one who is anxious to see capital punishment abolished, as I am, could find any reasonable cause to object to these Amendments, and I would venture to hope that my right honourable and honourable friends in another place might also give favourable consideration to them.


My Lords, I have nothing to add. It is sometimes the second string that wins. and I hope that it does on this occasion.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 3.

Amendment moved—

Page 1, line 7, at end insert— ("() On sentencing any person convicted of murder to imprisonment for life the Court may at the same time declare the period which it recommends to the Secretary of State as the minimum period which in its view should elapse before the Secretary of State orders the release of that person on licence under Section 27 of the Prison Act 1952, or Section 21 of the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1952.")—(Lord Parker of Waddington.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.