HL Deb 26 October 1965 vol 269 cc529-48

2.48 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. I am sure that noble Lords do not wish me to tread again the controversial ground which underlies this Bill. That ground has been trodden inside this House and outside it for more than a century and a half in various contexts. If it could be said that the situation was once fluid, it has long since been trampled into mud, and I think that by now we may say it has been beaten into hard concrete. It is extremely unlikely that anything that can be said on this subject will be new. It is not likely that any new evidence will to-day be produced; and it is most unlikely of all, I think, that anything that is said will cause a single noble Lord to change his opinion from the one side to the other. I hope, therefore, that in the speeches that are made the old ground will not be traversed again; I certainly do not propose myself to traverse it.

All I want to do is to remind noble Lords of one or two points that may not be present in the minds of those who have not perhaps sat as assiduously through the debates on this Bill as I myself and many of our colleagues have. Noble Lords will recall that the principle of this Bill received an endorse- ment by a large majority at Second Reading; but among those who voted for the Bill at that stage, as well as among those who voted against it, there were many who had doubts and hesitations. I should like to remind the House that certain Amendments have been made in the Bill with a view to meeting those doubts. There are two to be named in particular. First, there has been included in the Bill a provision that, before the Secretary of State releases a murderer sentenced to a life sentence, he shall consult the Lord Chief Justice in respect of cases in England, and the Lord Justice General in respect of cases in Scotland, and the trial Judge, if he is still available. That is, I understand, the practice of the present Home Secretary, but it has not always been the practice. If the Bill becomes law, this provision will, for the first time, become statutory. Secondly, a provision has been added that at the time when a life sentence is passed, the court may make a recommendation as to the minimum period which should elapse before the offender is to be released. That recommendation is not binding on the Home Secretary, but clearly it will carry very great weight and it will, I think, give some comfort to those who feel that the danger in abolishing the death penalty is that a life sentence may not really be life but in some cases dangerously short.

I should also like to remind your Lordships that even now, after a century and a half, this is not a final decision. This measure has a prospective life of five years and no more. Unless Parliament determines otherwise, it will lapse automatically at the end of that period. We are not therefore taking a risk to all eternity. If we are taking a risk at all, we are doing so for that short, limited period of five years. My Lords, in supporting this Bill we are promoting a measure, humane in itself, which removes the gross and widely criticised anomalies in the present law and which, judging from the experience of every other country in which a similar step has been taken, does not aggravate the risks run by innocent persons. I cannot doubt that your Lordships will welcome the opportunity to pass into law a Bill about which all this could be said. I beg to move.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 3ª. —(Baroness Wootton of A binger.)

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, nor do I propose to discuss in any detail the merits or demerits of capital punishment. The question of the uniqueness of the deterrent; the effect of abolition on the position of police and prison officers; the statistics of murders in abolition countries compared with those in capital punishment countries; the so-called moral argument; the terrible sentence and the macabre paraphernalia of the execution; the emotion and the sentimentality; the appalling increase in the figures of crimes of violence in this country and of robbery with firearms, since the introduction of this Bill—all these matters were discussed ad nauseam in our debates on Second Reading and during the Committee stage of the Bill. At the end of the day, however, I doubt whether one single Member of your Lordships' House was influenced in his decision by what he heard. Certainly I remain as firmly convinced as ever that capital punishment is a unique deterrent and that its abolition would lead to an increase of murders, and to most damaging effects on our prison services and the police force, the alarming deterioration of which was publicised yesterday in a Memorandum by the Police Superintendents' Association to the Home Secretary.

All that I wish to do is to make one final plea to your Lordships, even at this late hour, to reject this Bill on the simple ground that it does not command the support of the overwhelming mass of the people in this country. Parliament has no mandate to pass this measure. I doubt whether one Member of another place ever mentioned it in his election address. And I feel sure that, in response to the usual questionnaire on capital punishment which, as all of us who have sat in another place and fought a Parliamentary Election know, is sent out at Election times to all candidates by the League for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, the majority of the present Members of the House of Commons were careful not to commit themselves on this issue. Even now this measure comes to us with the support of only 200 out of 630 Members of the House of Commons on Third Reading.

I do not believe that a single noble Lord is in any doubt whatever about what is the feeling of the public in Britain towards this Bill. I have spoken to hundreds of men and women up and down the country in these past months since this House gave the Bill a Second Reading. They are overwhelmingly opposed to abolition. Even the minority which favours abolition includes many who are extremely doubtful about the wisdom of putting through this measure at this time, having regard to the great increase in crimes of violence.

Last night two young men, mechanics in a Midlands garage, motored down to London after they had finished their work to seek to present a petition to Parliament calling for a reformation in the law relating to capital punishment. They did so due to the recent increase in assaults upon minors. Apparently they were under the impression that the measure had already become law. Not knowing where to go, they went to the offices of the Daily Mirror, of which they are readers and which of course has taken no position on this issue. The Daily Mirror telephoned to me and asked whether I had any advice to give to these young men. I said I doubted whether the petition—I have it beside me now—was in a form in which it could be presented to your Lordships before this debate, but I undertook to refer to the matter in my speech. This morning I received the petition, together with a letter signed by Mr. James Hadley and Mr. David Cooper, the two young men in question. Incidentally, they are both married and have young children. I do not think I can do better than read the letter to your Lordships, with your Lordships' permission. This is what they say: We believe that the death penalty should not be abolished. We believe this because the number of murderous attacks, particularly on young children, is not decreasing while imprisonment is the only deterrent, but is increasing. We have been mistaken in thinking that the death penalty had already been abolished, since Her Majesty's judges have indicated in sentencing murderers that there is little likelihood of the death penalty being carried out. In only ten days we two have collected some three thousand signatures from people who believe that the death penalty should be retained. This we have done while off duty from our work in a Midlands garage. We have visited various Midlands towns and London in our time off. If there was more time we could get thousands and thousands more to sign this petition. Those who have signed the petition so far think as we do, that the law of demanding a life for a life is the only just deterrent to murderers. Many believe as we do that the nation has not been given a proper chance to decide this issue. We have not been asked to vote for M.P.s because they are for or against hanging. That very important issue has been buried under other political issues. We feel it would have been better if every voter—particularly every parent whose children may be the victims of murderous attacks—could have voted on this important issue. Even at this late hour we ask that there should be a national referendum so that the public can decide for or against the death penalty. We regret that our petition, hastily put together, was not in a form which would enable you to present it officially to Parliament. Nevertheless, we hope that you will, if you have the opportunity, tell the House of Lords that many people of all ages, from all walks of life and, surprisingly, many young people, still believe that the death penalty should be retained, particularly for violent murderers. That, my Lords, is the letter and I am firmly convinced that the views contained in it represent the opinion of the vast bulk of our people, old and young.

We have also, on this occasion, the advantage of the national opinion polls. All three main national opinion polls taken earlier this year show that more than 65 per cent. of the people were opposed to abolition, as against some 20 per cent. who favoured it. It will no doubt be argued that national opinion polls are not necessarily accurate, and that is, of course, true: they only indicate a general trend. But when there is an 11 per cent. lead in the national opinion polls in favour of the Labour Government that hits the headlines, and calculations are immediately made in political circles as to whether this would justify the Prime Minister in going to the country. Such an opinion poll as that is taken very seriously, indeed.

But what about capital punishment? Here the lead is no less than 45 per cent. against abolition. How can Parliament and this House dare to pass this measure and at the same time seek to argue that it is in any way a democratic reflection of the wishes of our people? Certainly, every noble Lord who votes for this Bill must know that he is voting directly against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the electors of this country, as well as against the advice of the police and prison officers. Even in this House, I doubt very much whether the large majority on the Bill's Second Reading reflected the true wishes of all its Members. If this is an unrepresentative Assembly, I suggest, with all respect, that the majority in favour of abolition on July 20 was an unrepresentative majority.

It is often said that this is a matter of conscience and principle, on which Parliament should give a lead. I suggest again that when it is evident, as it is, that the great majority of our people are opposed to this measure, which is bound to affect the lives of every man, woman and child in this country, the proper way to give a lead is for a Party, or an individual Parliamentary candidate, to advocate the measure boldly and frankly at Election time. This has never been done. I do not believe that Parliament has any right to set itself above the wishes of the people in this matter. If this is a good Bill, if the arguments in favour of abolition are sound, then the proper course is to hold up the Bill and submit the whole issue to the electorate at the next Election. Perhaps the candidates in the City of Westminster and Erith by-elections will have the courage to do so.

Meanwhile, I submit to your Lordships that our duty, as supporters of a democratic Parliamentary system, is to reject this Bill on Third Reading, so that its authors and its supporters may have an opportunity to lay it before our people for their decision in due course. In the hope that even at this late hour noble Lords who have supported this measure will reconsider their position, I give notice formally to your Lordships that I intend to divide the House.

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, the record of the previous debates on the matter before the House occupies many pages in Hansard. The arguments for and against retention of the death penalty have been bandied backwards and forwards, and the thrust-and-parry of debate has been keen. If I venture to intervene at this stage in the debate, it is as one who is unashamedly for the abolition of the death penalty. But it is not, I think, as one who does so on sentimental grounds. On the contrary, in casting my vote, as I intend to do to-day, in favour of abolition, I do so with a sense of deep concern for the furtherance of justice; for the security of the citizens, be they the police officers or prison officers concerned or the old and defenceless people in our cities; and for the compensation, in so far as any kind of compensation is possible, of those who are related to or dependent on the one who has been murdered.

Your Lordships would not wish me to seek to go over again the arguments drawn from the experience of countries which have, either long ago or more recently, abolished the death penalty. These arguments affect different people in different ways. For myself, I confess that I am considerably moved by the evidence, which would seem to indicate that there has been no increase in crimes hitherto regarded as deserving of capital punishment. I note also with deep interest that in such countries as Norway, Sweden and Denmark, where capital punishment does not exist, the police still go unarmed, as I am sure our own police would wish to continue to be. I cannot ignore the statement of such a witness as the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, when he said: I believe that there is not a shred of evidence, nothing that any respectable lawyer would dream of adducing in the lowest courts in the land, to support the view that the death penalty in the past had any deterrent effect on the rate of murder in this country. All these things sway my judgment in favour of the ends which this Bill seeks so bring about. But on these things I shall not delay the House this afternoon. Rather, I would beg your Lordships' attention to certain moral issues which I believe must be given the most careful consideration.

As I recall the course of previous debates on this subject, I notice that there has been not infrequent allusion to Scripture. This is not to be wondered at, inasmuch as our English law can claim largely to be based on those writings. One of the arguments of many retentionists is that death as a reward for murder is written into the documents of the Old Testament and is therefore a part of the Divine intention for the conduct of human affairs so long as time shall last.

But it must be pointed out that a good deal of Old Testament legislation is no longer held to be applicable to our society to-day. Let me give but one illustration: If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman…. The most rigid supporter of a strict code of sexual ethics would hardly wish to see that enforced to-day. The conscience of mankind has moved on. Indeed, it may be noted, in passing, that the lex talionis—"an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"—is not so much a demand for strict vengeance in kind as a safeguard, a kindly safeguard, that if a man takes your eye, you may not take both of his.

I wish to say a word about a phrase, this time occurring twice in the New Testament, which has more than once been quoted in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, in the speech to which I have already referred, said that he would be content to be guided by the advice of St. Paul, that vengeance is the Lord's: He will repay. The noble Lord added, in parenthesis "… if the Bishops will permit such a curious aberration from modern theology". I can only say that if it is an aberration from modern theology, to call in evidence this "advice" of St. Paul, then I would fain be put down with the ancient theologians. For here, surely, is a point of great importance. Men—weak, fallible men like ourselves—have often to be the means of executing judgment. Our officers of law fulfil a function in our national life which is indispensable for its health and wellbeing. But there comes a point—I believe it is the point whence there is no return, the point of the death sentence—where weak and fallible humans must say, "Hands off! This is the sphere where we give place to the Divine wrath. Vengeance belongs to God. He will repay".

Let me not be misunderstood here. I believe in retribution. I believe not only in reformation, but in retribution. Society must say, through its officers of law, that it repudiates certain acts as utterly incompatible with civilised conduct and that it will exact retribution from those who violate its ordered code. But to adopt that which we condemn, and to kill the killer, is not, in my view, the best way of exacting retribution. I suspect that to act thus is to take on ourselves a measure of vengeance which is best left to the Deity. There is about capital punishment a dreadful irrevocability which belongs to no other sphere of justice. It is possible to go over the evidence again, as is now being done in the case of Timothy Evans, but one cannot bring a man back from the dead. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, said in an earlier debate, with a kind of awful monosyllabic simplicity: We can put out the light of life; we cannot light it again. All of us—every one of us—stand under the judgment of God. I do not think we should ask any of our fellow citizens—Home Secretary, judge or hangman—to participate in a function which rightly does not belong to mortal man.

I believe that if we continue to countenance the infliction of the death penalty, we shall be placing on the Home Secretary, whose unenviable task it is to tender advice to the Crown, a burden which should never be borne. I ask: Ought our society to ask any man to shoulder the appalling responsibility of saying, Yea or Nay to the question, with all its dreadful imponderables, of a reprieve? Further, someone has to carry out the order; or, rather, a number of persons must make themselves responsible for the final act of hanging. It is one thing to debate this issue in the comfort of the House of Lords; it is another matter to find oneself implicated in the execution of a fellow member of society, however depraved he may be. And, again, I believe that the society which allows this law of hanging to remain on its Statute Book degrades itself, coarsens itself, cheapens itself.

My Lords, in my opening remarks I referred to my concern for those who were related to, or dependent on, the one who has been murdered. There is, of course, a sense in which no compensation can ever be made to those who by some fearful act have been deprived of a relative; but there is a sense in which some kind of amends may at least be attempted. In the realm of crime and punishment, I believe that the reinstatement of such ideas as duty and repayment, of sweat and toil, might be of more avail, in many cases, than the reference of the criminal to the psychiatrist's consulting room. I am not one of those who subscribe to what I have called elsewhere "the cult of the easy". A hard way back for the man who has made it hard for others may be the best way for all concerned. But even in the dire case of murder, I believe that it should be made possible for the murderer, during the long years of his imprisonment (and I do not seek for the lessening of that period), so to work as to make at least some financial contribution to the remaining members of the family which he has deprived.

In saying this, I have touched on a matter which calls for far more attention than it is now receiving: I mean the employment of the prisoner—and I am now thinking particularly of the murderer—during his time of imprisonment. I am one of those who hold that, wherever possible, he should be given work of such a kind as will be profitable to the community: that it should be paid for, and that a large part of the pay should be used for the compensation of those whom he has injured. Difficult as this would be to operate—and I am not blind to these difficulties—I am sure that its operation would do something to stop that "rotting" of a man during long imprisonment, to which frequent reference has rightly been made in the course of the earlier stages of this debate, as well as making some tiny compensation to the bereaved. Compensation, on the one hand, and the promotion of self-respect, on the other, would go together.

My Lords, I have said enough. With the necessary safeguards now written into this Bill, let us by an overwhelming vote in its favour say to the country, whether they be ready for our lead or not—and if we are not here to give a lead, what are we here for?—"We will give this a fair trial. If, after a period of years, it can incontestably be proved that there has been a rise in the rate of those crimes which hitherto have involved capital punishment, and if that increase seems to be attributable to the abolition of capital punishment, then we will think again. But now, in 1965, let us be done with this relic of a bygone age. We in this House invite you to follow our lead. Have done with this thing! In the name of God, let it go!"

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not trouble your Lordships this afternoon for many moments. I want to say only a few final words on this the Third Reading of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill. I, as your Lordships know, was one of those, among others of your Lordships, who opposed this Bill, because we thought it would have the effect of encouraging violent crime and discouraging the police. If the opposition is pressed to a Division today, as I understand it will be, I shall again vote against the Bill, although I realise that both Houses of Parliament have taken a different view.

I must confess that, in spite of the powerful arguments—and I thought them very powerful—adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, I do not think it likely that any speech by me or anyone else will be calculated to make this House alter the decision to which it has already come. I say this the more because I am very conscious of what I believe to have been the nature of the motive that caused the majority of your Lordships and Members of another place to support the Bill in its earlier stages and to vote as they did. It was not that the great mass of our fellow countrymen want this Bill passed. On the contrary, I think it is generally agreed, and admitted even by the supporters of the Bill, that the great majority of our fellow countrymen are strongly opposed to the abolition of capital punishment. Nor, in my view, were those noble Lords who supported this Bill actuated by the dictates of pure reason. Indeed, I got the impression that noble Lords who advanced those elaborately marshalled arguments to which we listened, to the effect that twenty years' imprisonment was really a greater deterrent than fear of hanging by the neck, were not convinced even themselves.

And I will say to the most reverend Primate who just made so moving a speech and who quoted a remark of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Shawcross, that there was not a shred of evidence that capital punishment was a deterrent, that that was not the view either of the police or of the prison warders, and, with all deference to the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, I would prefer their opinion on this point to his. I do not believe that the sort of arguments to which I have just been referring had any influence on the decision to which your Lordships came, and that the majority of noble Lords were actuated by something far more simple and fundamental: by the dictates of personal conscience. They simply could not bear the idea of one man hanging another and of themselves personally, as members of society, sharing with the hangman a part of the responsibility for such a deed. I believe it was that which was in the minds of most noble Lords when we debated the Second Reading of this Bill.

I do not in the least complain of that. None of us, whatever our views about this Bill, likes the idea of taking away a fellow man's life. And I do not pretend that I personally do not have a feeling of relief if that is not going to happen again. But the supporters of this Bill—and I will say this with very great deference to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York—who have, or will have, by their action to-day, brought capital punishment to an end, must face one hard, inescapable fact. We who are citizens of this country have a dual responsibility. It is not only to see that justice and mercy shall be meted out to the evil-doer, however heinous his crime; it is also to see that, so far as it is in our power, proper protection is given to the ordinary law-abiding citizen, whether that citizen be a man or a woman or a child, and whether he or she be young or old.

That being the case—and I would say again that noble Lords must face this fact—it is not we who have opposed this Bill but those noble Lords who supported the Bill who will henceforth be on trial. If their sanguine expectations are realised, and if the figures of murder and violence go down, or even remain where they were before the introduction of this Bill, then they and we can alike rejoice. But if the figures of murder and violent crime, which so often leads to murder, continue to go up, what will their position be then? They will have done indeed their duty by the murderer by tempering their justice with mercy, but what about their equal responsibility of protecting the law-abiding citizen from murder and outrage? That is something about which they will assuredly have to give very serious attention and anxiously search their consciences. If such a time does come—and I hope, with them, that it will not—I hope, too, that they will not shrink from the agonising reappraisals to which the harsh lessons of experience may lead them.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to take part in the debate to-day, but in view of what is transpiring I should like for a moment to recapitulate some of the views that I expressed on Second Reading. This is a subject which, as we all know, gives rise to high emotion one way or the other. I have always tried to approach the matter on a purely practical basis. It is said that the death penalty is a unique deterrent, and I should be the last person to vote in favour of the abolition of something which I believed was a really unique deterrent. But your Lordships probably know the figures. Out of some 170 murderers every year, only a minute percentage are ever hanged. After all, it is the certainty of punishment which is the only real deterrent. Secondly, murder is in quite a different category from, say, many other offences. I suppose that 90 per cent., or more, of all murders arise in some domestic situation which will never arise again, or in the course of some sexual crime. Nothing, I venture to think, in those cases will be a deterrent at all.

It is always said that judges are reactionary; that they never want any change in the law. But they sit there every day seeing where the shoe pinches and where injustice is being done. For seven years I have presided in the Court of Criminal Appeal, to whom almost every capital murderer appeals, and for the last four of those seven years I have been so disgusted (if I may put it that way) with the anomalies that arise, with the injustices that are done as between man and man—one man is hanged and another, equally blameworthy, imprisoned for life—that I determined four years ago that something ought to be done, and I was in favour of abolition.

When one gets to that stage, there are only three courses open. The first is to amend in some respect the Homicide Act. I venture to think that that is quite impossible. It is impossible to legislate for every type of crime which may occur at any time in the future. Whatever one does, there will be anomalies. I was interested to know—I was out there at the time—that the New Zealanders were minded to amend the Homicide Act, and they produced draft after draft and came to the conclusion that nothing they could put into an Act of Parliament would really see that justice was done in all cases. They went ahead—if one can call it "ahead"—and completely abolished the death penalty.

The other two courses are to go back to the stage when every murder was a murder attracting the death penalty, and when reprieves were the exceptional course. Again I venture to think that one cannot go back now, certainly not after the overwhelming vote in another place and in your Lordship's House on Second Reading. That means, I think, that we should go ahead and completely abolish the death penalty, subject to certain safeguards. On Second Reading I voted in favour of this Bill on the condition that certain Amendments were inserted which I thought would provide safeguards up to a point. I introduced those Amendments, and your Lordships passed them. They are the Amendments which, for the last four years, I have thought should be the conditions for abolishing the death penalty.

I am a little worried to-day at those who threaten to divide the House at this stage. I cannot believe that they would face a constitutional issue on this point, and that really the gambit—if it be a gambit—is to see that the Bill does not get through this Session, and that those who favour it should start again. I ask those who threaten to do that to think again. Take the unfortunate Judges, whom I represent and who arc almost to a man behind me on this matter. Are they to go through the farce, indeed the tragedy, day after day, of sentencing people to death, when everybody knows the death penalty will never be carried out? I ask those who threaten to divide the House to think again.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, that almost everything that can be said on this subject has been said in the course of our debates, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, has really given us to-day a résumé of the speech he made on Second Reading. I must say something in reply to some of the points made by the noble Lord, but because everything has been said, and if I may say so, said so well on both sides, I do not propose to speak for very long to-day and I shall endeavour, so far as possible, not to go back on to old ground.

My noble friend Lord Colyton has said that he proposes to divide the House. I can see no constitutional reason why he should not do so if he so wishes, nor can I see any constitutional issue arising if this House takes a different view from another place on a Private Member's Bill. So far as the position of the Judges is concerned, they have to implement the law as Parliament decides it to be, and I must say I was surprised the other day to note that following upon a Report made by a Committee on the functions of the Court of Criminal Appeal, action has been taken on that Report by Her Majesty's Judges without any expression of view upon that Report by either House of Parliament. I certainly do not think that there would be anything wrong or unconstitutional in dividing if my noble friend decides so to do. If he does, I shall certainly support him.

Last week I read in the Daily Telegraph, to my surprise and astonishment, an emphatic statement that I intended to divide the House. Where they got that from I do not know; they certainly did not get it from me because it was not my intention, after the majority this Bill got on Second Reading and the Amendments carried in Committee and on Report, to ask the House to divide. But I still think that, despite those Amendments, this is a bad Bill for Parliament to pass at this time. If there is a Division, I shall vote against it, and I should like to state quite shortly the reasons why I shall do so.

As my noble friend Lord Colyton has said, this is not a Bill, so far as one can judge, which is wanted by the public. In so far as there has been any attempt to find out what the public think about it, the indications are that the public do not want it. So far as I know, not many Parliamentary candidates said at the time they were standing for Parliament that they were in favour of abolition. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor excused the failure to consult the electorate by saying that he had always set his face against this becoming a Party matter. I certainly would not wish it to become a Party issue, as apparently it was in New Zealand, and in fact it could not become a Party issue as views on this cut right across Party lines. The fact is that the public have had singularly little opportunity to make their views known. If it is the case that the public are against it, we are being invited to ignore public opinion. It is said, and said powerfully, and said this afternoon by the most reverend Primate, that we should give a lead. That is an argument which can always be advanced in support of a measure the public do not want.

No one, not even the strongest opponent of this Bill, likes capital punishment. I myself would like to make it clear that I do not want to see it retained out of any spirit of vengeance or of lex talionis or for the purposes of retribution. What concerns me is the possibility that, if it is not retained, a lot of people will be murdered in future who would not suffer that fate if in fact the law were not altered. I would gladly see capital punishment go if I felt that could be done without serious risk, but to abolish it now, in this age of violence, with so much grave crime, involves, in my belief, serious risk that more people will be murdered. Those who support this Bill are prepared to take that risk. My Lords, I for one, am not prepared to take such a risk. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said on Report that he was not satisfied that an experimental period of five years was really long enough and that the number of murders goes up and down as between one year and another. It is to be inferred from that statement that he recognises that the passing of this Bill may be followed by an increase in the number of murders in this country in the next five years, but he hopes that will have evened out in a ten-year period. The most reverend Primate, in a moving passage in his speech to-day, told us he thought the death penalty degraded society and that society coarsened and cheapened itself by retaining it. I would say that it is a low form of society in which murders become prevalent, and if the consequence is that the rate of murders increases materially then I think the kind of society which permits that would properly be open to adverse comment.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, said he did not think that capital punishment was a unique deterrent, and he went on to say "because of the low numbers who were executed". I would have thought if that argument led anywhere it was in precisely the contrary direction. If large numbers of people had to be executed for capital murder then it might be said that the deterrent was not effective, but I think such indications as we have in this country point in a very different direction. I am sure we all hope that, after the passing of this Bill, there will not be an increase in the number of murders, but if there is—and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, if I do not misunderstand him, appears to think there well may be—the supporters of this Bill will have a responsibility which I for one would not like to share.

We have been given the figures for capital and non-capital murders for a period before and after the passing of the Homicide Act. They have been referred to before, but they are, I think, significant, and if I may I should like to remind your Lordships of them. They show that the annual average of non-capital murders has increased since those murders were made non-capital, by 31. Thirty-one more people are killed—that is the annual average. In every year since 1957, the year of the Homicide Act, there have been more non-capital murders than in any of the years from 1952 to 1956 inclusive. In 1957 the figure rose to 174. That figure has been exceeded in each of the last three years.

The number of capital murders has ranged since 1952 between 31 as the highest in any one year and 17, and the annual average has only risen from 20 to 23 since the Homicide Act was passed. Expressed in percentages of the total number of murders, the percentage of capital murders has fallen by 0.9 per cent. and non-capital murders have increased by 0.9 per cent., but that 0.9 per cent. means an annual average of non-capital murders rising by 31. Now if capital punishment had no real deterrent effect one would not have expected such a rise in the annual average of non-capital murders when the annual average of capital murders shows so little change. If in this age of violence it was to be expected that more people would be victims of murder, and that that was one of the reasons for the rise in the yearly average of non-capital murders, surely it is significant that there has been no similar increase in the number of capital murders. Surely these figures are some evidence that capital punishment, abhor- rent though it is, is in fact a unique deterrent. I am sure we all hope that, if this Bill is passed, we shall not see a similar rise in what are now capital murders.

By this Bill you are removing the deterrent to killing by those with long criminal records. They know—it does not take much intelligence to realise it—that if they are caught and convicted again they will inevitably suffer a long term of imprisonment. They know that, if this Bill is passed, if in order to prevent identification they kill the person who comes upon them in the course of the commission of a crime the most they will suffer if caught and convicted will be a longer term of imprisonment. How long no one can say. It will under this Bill depend on the Home Secretary of the day, and the present Home Secretary has made it clear in a speech that has been quoted often in this House that that may mean nine years or so.

By this Bill you are removing, too, the deterrent against killing to avoid arrest, whether it be of a policeman or of a member of the public, and the deterrent against the killing of prison officers. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, has, I know, asserted that there is still a deterrent in those cases. She said on July 27 that if it is a policeman who is murdered the person who commits the murder will know that he has committed a murder of exceptional gravity. Will that really be a deterrent to a man with a very bad record who knows that if he is caught he will in any event get a very long term of imprisonment? All he will get, should he be caught after killing, is perhaps a still longer term. She went on to say if it is murder of a prison officer—and I quote her words—the murderer knows that his chance of release has gone forever".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 268 (No. 110), col. 1210, July 27, 1965.] I should like to ask the noble Baroness what authority she has for saying that. I have not noticed that the Home Secretary or any member of the Government has said anything of the sort. If she is right, for murder of a prison officer there will be a life sentence which really means imprisonment for life. She did not say that that would be the effect of the murder of a policeman. Does she regard such a murder as less grave? I hope the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will deal with this point when he comes to reply.

As I understand the Bill, persons who murder policemen and prison warders will be dealt with just like other murderers, and the length of their imprisonment will depend on the decision of the Home Secretary and may well be far less than imprisonment for life. It is quite true that this Bill has been improved by the Amendments moved by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice; but I must confess that I preferred the Amendment he moved and which was carried into the Bill to that which he substituted for it. It is the function of the Judges, in my belief, to decide what is the proper sentence to impose. The only exception to this in the field of serious crime has been where the punishment is death, for it has always in this country been regarded as too heavy a burden to put on a Judge to make him decide whether or not to pass a sentence of death. But now that murder ceases to be capital there is, so far as I can see, no reason at all why Judges should not have power to pass the sentence they think is right for murder just as they do for other serious crimes—for attempted murder, which although the victim does not die, may leave him crippled for life. Once murder is made non-capital, I think it is an invasion of the proper province of the Judges for Parliament to say that in such cases a life sentence must be passed and that it will be for the Executive to say what it really means. I think this is wrong in principle, and that is why I preferred the Amendment first moved by my noble and learned friend Lord Parker of Waddington. It is true that the Judge will have power, as he had without any statutory provision, to say what he thinks a life sentence should mean, but it will still be for the Executive to decide in murder cases what in fact it does mean.

I have said before and said again, and if your Lordships would allow me I should like to repeat, that I have for long been in favour of a substantial relaxation of the rules with regard to release on licence. I should like to see much wider powers for that, and powers exercisable not only in cases of murder; but I should be strongly opposed to the Home Secretary and the Home Office exercising this power on their own. I think it essential that there should be an advisory body, on which the Judiciary should be strongly represented, to advise the Home Secretary after going into all the facts of the case.

It is because I fear the consequences of abolition now that I am opposed to this Bill. Of course it can be said that there never will be a right time for abolition. I do not share that view, and if since the passing of the Homicide Act we had seen no real increase in the annual average of non-capital murders I should myself have been in favour of this Bill. But the annual average of persons murdered where the death penalty has been abolished has risen, as I have said, by 31. I hope my fears as to the effect of this Bill will not be realised, that we shall not see a similar rise in capital murders. If my fears are not realised, I shall not object at the end of the five years' period, nor do I suppose there will be any objection, to this Bill's being made permanent. But if my fears prove true, then indeed some other solution will have to be found. I do not think it means going back to the Homicide Act. Some other attempt at finding a solution will have to be made.

In conclusion, I would say this. As your Lordships know, I have opposed this Bill from start to finish. I oppose it today. But I hate hanging. During my professional career I never attended a murder trial in which I was not professionally engaged, and I hated being engaged in one. But I still believe that we cannot dispense with this terrible punishment now without subjecting a number of people to a greater and serious risk of being murdered, and so I repeat, if there is a Division on this Bill I shall vote with those who vote against it.


My Lords, I think this would be the right moment for me to interrupt Business for the Royal Commission.