HL Deb 26 October 1965 vol 269 cc550-7

4.17 p.m.

Debate on Third Reading resumed.


My Lords, in an exceptionally large House, after two days of debate, your Lordships voted for the Second Reading of this Bill by 204 to 104—a proportion of 2 to 1; substantially the same as had happened on the Second Reading in another place. One or two noble Lords expressed the hope that the learned Judges would be satisfied about what I may call the release procedure, and, as your Lordships know, Amendments were moved and considered, first in Committee and subsequently on Report stage, and were agreed to. I should have hoped that in those circumstances it might be possible to dispense with a Division of the House on the Third Reading, but of course the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, is fully within his rights in dividing the House upon it. However, I am sure that your Lordships will feel that at this stage I can be extremely short, because I think we have had—and perhaps inevitably—no new arguments at all.

The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, asked me specifically to ans- wer the question whether it was right that anybody who killed a policeman or a warder would never be released at all. That of course is not so. His case would be treated in the same way as others, bearing in mind, of course, the particular gravity of his crime. The noble Lord, Lord Colyton, dealt almost entirely with public opinion and the public opinion polls. Your Lordships may remember that on the Second Reading debate the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in an obviously well-informed and careful speech, dealt fully with the public opinion poll.

The main argument for those who believe in capital punishment has throughout been—and it is, I believe, the only rational argument for the retention of capital punishment—that it is a much greater deterrent than any other form of punishment, and that therefore if you abolish capital punishment murders will increase. I do not doubt that a great many members of the public who have never had occasion to consider the relevant facts believe that. It has always seemed to me quite natural that they should. The division here is very largely between informed and less-in-formed opinion; but this has always been the main argument. It was on Second Reading, it was in 1956 and it was in 1948. Indeed, if one were to go back to 1748 one would find that this was still the main argument. William York was convicted of murder at Durham Assizes in 1748 during that short period in our legal history when the trial judge had the right himself to respite the death sentence. The Chief Justice, before whom York was tried, was not sure whether that was a proper case in which to exercise the power. He therefore asked the other judges, who met and sent him their views in a memorandum—which is why we know what they said. They said: He is a proper subject for capital punishment and ought to suffer. Though the taking away of a life of a boy of ten years old may savour of cruelty, yet as an example this boy's punishment may be a means of deterring other children from like offences; and as the sparing of this boy merely on account of his age will probably have a quite contrary tendency, in justice to the public the law ought to take its course". This has always been the main argument; and, of course, it is a view which anybody is entitled to hold. But no new point about it has been made to-day. For myself, I am absolutely certain that the existence or non-existence of capital punishment has absolutely no relation at all to the homicide rate. I believe this because from 125 years ago, when we in this country successively abolished capital punishment in the case of over 200 different offences, we have always been told, particularly by the judges, that if we abolished capital punishment from this crime, then this crime would enormously increase, and that if we abolished it from that crime, then that crime would enormously increase. The fact is that at that time there was no subsequent increase in those crimes at all.

Further, I believe it has no relation to the homicide rate because the experience of other countries has been the same—and they are countries of the greatest diversity of geography, of race and of economies. While most of the civilised countries of the world, as your Lordships know, have long abolished capital punishment, there is, I am satisfied, no country in which the abolition of capital punishment has resulted in any increase in murder in that country; and I should think that the experience that we have had since the introduction of the Homicide Act tends to point in that direction. I know one can always argue statistics in different ways. I base my reliance on the simple fact, relied on by Mr. Henry Brooke, that in 1957 we abolished capital punishment 85 per cent. We are now dealing with the 15 per cent. anomaly; and, if capital punishment is a far greater deterrent than any other form of punishment, should we not all have expected that there would be a very substantial increase in the number of murders in the 85 per cent. category from which capital punishment was then removed, and a substantial decrease in the number of murders in the 15 per cent. category for which it was retained? On the contrary, as Mr. Brooke pointed out, there has been no substantial change at all.

Secondly, my Lords, it is my own view that the deliberate putting to death of a man or a woman in cold blood as a punishment for crime is no longer consistent with our own self-respect. Thirdly, I do not believe that fallible human beings are entitled to impose a punishment so irrevocable that, if they find they have made a mistake, they have, by choosing this form of punishment, made it impossible for them to do anything to rectify that mistake. Further, I do not believe that any human being is irredeemable: nor do I believe that any other human being is himself or herself fit to decide that some other human being is not fit to live. Next, I think we ought not to employ people to do that which we would in no circumstances do ourselves. It was a former prison governor of Pentonville Prison who said: I never can help asking myself why, when one is called upon to superintend an execution, one should have been affected by such an acute sense of personal shame. There must be something fundamentally wrong with a law which has the effect of lessening the self-respect of those whose duty it is to carry it out". Lastly, I believe that in a short time the thing which will surprise us will be why we did not do this earlier; why we did not do it at the sort of time when most civilised countries did it: I believe we shall realise for the first time the effect of example. It was one of the representatives of an abolitionist country who said to the Select Committee: In my country, the lesson has been learnt that the best way of inculcating respect for human life is for the State itself to refrain from taking life in the name of the law". My Lords, I believe that that is right, and in expressing the hope that your Lordships' House will pass the Third Reading of this Bill by the same sort of proportion as it passed the Second Reading, I am quite sure that, when the traps have been removed from the prisons, not only shall we be as safe a country but we shall be a much saner and healthier one.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I think there is just one addendum that I ought to make to the short list of reminders which I gave in my opening remarks. I think your Lordships need to have in mind that we are not here to discuss the abolition of the death penalty. We are here to discuss the abolition of a number of completely anomalous instances in which the

death penalty has survived after it has been abolished for by far the greater part of crimes that were formerly capital.

Public opinion has been quoted, and I am quite willing to concede to the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, that public opinion is probably against the abolition of the death penalty and that the public opinion polls are as good a reflection of public opinion as we are able to get at present. But if, in the decisions in your Lordships' House, we were to follow the public opinion polls, some very curious results would follow. At present, one of the results would be that noble Lords opposite would be under an obligation to accept any measures that were moved from the Benches on this side of the House. What is much more important is that public opinion is, on this issue, ill-informed; and the young men who brought Lord Colyton their petition also appear to be ill-informed. They were, very understandably, deeply concerned, as we all are, about child murders, but it is a very long time since a child murderer has been hanged, because most child murders are not committed in the course of theft, children are not policemen and children who are murdered are seldom, if ever, shot.

What we are here to do to-day is to remove this differentiation between the murderer who takes sixpence from his victim's pocket and the one who does not—a differentiation which, as the law now stands, is, or may be, a matter of life and death: a differentiation between those who murder by shooting and those who bludgeon their victims to death; and a differentiation which favours the poisoner and allows the person who shoots in hot blood to be hanged. I am sure that when we appreciate that this is what we are deciding, we in this House shall not hesitate to align ourselves with the practice which now prevails in the greater part of the civilised world.

4.30 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 3ª?

Their Lordships divided: Contents. 169; Not-Contents, 75.

Aberdare, L. Amherst of Hackney, L. Arran, E.
Addison, V. Amory, V. Arwyn, L.
Airedale, L. Amulree, L. Asquith of Yarnbury, Bs.
Alport, L. Archibald, L. Astor, V.
Attlee, E. Hankey, L. Plummer, Bs.
Auckland, L. Harewood, E. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Harmsworth, L. Queensberry, M.
Beswick, L. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Raglan, L.
Blackford, L. Hastings, L. Rank, L.
Blyton, L. Henderson, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Boothby, L. Henley, L. [Teller.] Rea, L.
Boston, L. Hertford, M. Reay, L. [Teller.]
Bourne, L. Hilton of Upton, L. Redesdale, L.
Bowden, L Hives, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Bowles, L. Hodson, L. Robertson of Oakridge, L.
Boyd-Orr, L. Howard of Glossop, L. Royle, L.
Bridgeman, V. Hurcomb, L. Russell of Liverpool, L.
Brockway, L. Hurd, L. Sainsbury, L.
Brook of Ystradfellte, Bs. Iddesleigh, E. St. Albans, L. Bp.
Brown, L. Ilford, L. St. Davids, V.
Burden, L. Ingleby, V. St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, L.Bp.
Burton of Coventry, Bs. Kennet, L.
Byers, L. Killearn, L. St. Just, L.
Carnock, L. Lansdowne, M. Segal, L.
Carrington, L. Latham, L. Shackleton, L.
Cawley, L. Layton, L. Shepherd, L.
Champion, L. Leatherland, L. Sherfield, L.
Chorley, L. Lilford, L. Silkin, L.
Citrine, L. Lindgren, L. Simey, L.
Clinton, L. Listowel. E. Simonds, V.
Clwyd, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Snow, L.
Cohen, L. Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Soper, L.
Cohen of Brighton, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Sorensen, L.
Coleraine, L. Luke, L. Southwark, L. Bp.
Colgrain, L. Lyle of Westbourne, L. Stonham, L.
Coventry, L. Bp. Mabane, L. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Craigmyle, L. McNair, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Croft, L. Mancroft, L. Swanborough, Bs.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Merthyr, L. Swinton, E.
Devonshire, D. Meston, L. Tangley, L.
Dinevor, L. Milford, L. Terrington, L.
Dudley, L. Milford Haven, M. Thurlow, L.
Effingham, E. Mitchison, L. Twining, L.
Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Morris of Borth-y-Gest, L. Wade, L.
Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Morris of Kenwood, L. Waldegrave, E.
Exeter, L. Bp. Morrison, L. Walston, L.
Falmouth, V. Mottistone, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Foley, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Fortescue, E. Napier and Ettrick, L. Wilberforce, L.
Gainsborough, E. Newcastle, L. Bp. Willis, L.
Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) Newton, L. Winterbottom, L.
Geddes, L. Norwich, L. Bp. Wise, L.
Gifford, L. Norwich, V. Woolton, E.
Grantchester, L. Ogmore, L. Wootton of Abinger, Bs.
Granville-West, L. Oxford, L. Bp. York, L. Abp.
Haddington, E. Parker of Waddington, L. Ypres, E.
Haire of Whiteabbey, L. Phillips, Bs.
Ailsa, M. Devonport, V. Kemsley, V.
Allerton, L. Digby, L. Lambert, V.
Ampthill, L. Dilhorne, V. Long, V.
Ashbourne, L. Drumalbyn, L. Lovat, L.
Balfour of Burleigh, L. Ellenborough, L. MacAndrew, L.
Barnby, L. [Teller.] Erroll of Hale, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Falkland, V. Merrivale, L.
Bolton, L. Ferrers, E. Mersey, V.
Brocket, L. Forster of Harraby, L. Middleton, L.
Chesham, L. Furness, V. Milverton, L.
Cholmondeley, M. Glasgow, E. Monsell, V.
Clitheroe, L. Glendevon, L. Morton of Henryton, L.
Colwyn, L. Godber, L. Rathcavan, L.
Colyton, L. [Teller.] Goddard, L. Reith, L.
Coutanche, L. Greenway, L. Rockley, L.
Cromartie, E. Grenfell, L. Rowallan, L.
Denham, L. Harris, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Deramore, L. Inglewood, L. St. Helens, L.
Derwent, L. Ironside, L. Salisbury, M.
Saltoun, L. Stamp, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Shannon, E. Strathcarron, L. Waleran, L.
Sinclair of Cleeve, L. Strathclyde, L. Willingdon, M.
Somers, L. Stuart of Findhorn, V. Wolverton, L.
Soulbury, V. Teynham, L. Wynford, L.
Stamford, E. Tucker, L. Yarborough, E.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Bill read 3ª accordingly, with the Amendments.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Wootton of Abinger.)


My Lords, I rise, not to carry on opposition to this Bill, but, despite having been referred to as, and probably being, one of the ill-informed opponents of this Bill, to extend my sincere congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, on the success she has achieved, despite the strongest opposition that we could put forward. I should like also, if I may, to congratulate a Member of another place, Mr. Silverman, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who together have fought for so many years to bring about this change in the law.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.