HL Deb 12 December 1974 vol 355 cc825-909

5.56 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, I will confine my remarks to Irish matters, because I feel that if it were not for the existence of Ireland and the Irish we would not be having this debate tonight. At first, after the voting last night in another place, I wondered whether this debate tonight in your Lordships' House would be a little superfluous. But right from the start, when the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made his excellent speech, I felt sure that, in our usual way, we will be able to make a contribution to this matter.

I am certain that the people who were most disappointed by the vote last night in another place were the IRA. Some two or three hours before the vote a bomb was thrown. A few months ago, in a rather similar situation in Dublin before a vital vote, a bomb went off—admittedly, with far worse consequences—and it completely changed the vote. It made it possible for the Government to introduce some anti-IRA measures which they would not have been able to do had it not been for the bomb which went off in the streets of Dublin two or three hours earlier. I have no doubt that the IRA were hoping that the same thing would happen in reverse in the House of Commons, and I am glad that it did not.

It is very hard to understand the Irish mind. It does not work like the English mind—it works in reverse. If you are a member of the IRA you want to see stern reaction; you want to see internment continued indefinitely so that you can create more and more martyrs. This is something that is very hard for the British to understand, but I can assure your Lordships it is true. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was right to remind us of 1916. That event—which is called the "Rebellion" in the United Kingdom and the "Rising" in the Republic of Ireland—was a turning point in Irish affairs.

Those who have read Trish history will know that when those who had taken part in that rising were being marched down the streets of Dublin, the landladies—and there were always a large number of them in the old days in Dublin; I am not sure why—were so furious with the people who had disrupted the life of that city that they went to their top floors and emptied the contents of the chamber pots on the heads of those who had been captured by the British soldiers. But the moment they were executed a week later the whole atmosphere changed from one of annoyance to one of hatred of the British. So I think that the noble Lord was quite right to remind us of that problem. I would plead with your Lordships to understand that the root of this problem lies in Ireland. England is largely a happy and homogeneous society, and one would be wrong to react in an English way to this Irish problem.

I would mention a fact which has not perhaps been realised. It is historical, I know, but I think it is worthy of mention. A few years ago in the mid-1960s, during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill at Stormont, after action had been taken in Britain which would make it unnecessary for the job of hangman to exist any more, I managed to pilot through the Northern Ireland House of Commons a small measure which did not completely abolish capital punishment but got very near it. In fact, the proof of the pudding is in the eating; nobody suffered capital punishment after that Bill was passed. We had a free vote in the House. Both my successors voted for retention, but by a little judicious talking to various Back-Benchers we managed practically to get abolition, although capital punishment was maintained for the murder of an officer of the Crown. Little did I realise that much later on, when I was under threat of Protestant assassination, it would be stressed that although capital punishment had been practically abolished it had been kept for one or two categories of crime including murder of an officer of the Crown.

I agree so much with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, at the conclusion of her remarks. If it was right—and of course it was right—for Mr. Whitelaw, when he was the Northern Ireland Viceroy, to abolish capital punishment for Northern Ireland, why should it be right to reintroduce capital punishment now when Northern Ireland affairs, or rather IRA affairs, are starting to impinge themselves on the rest of the United Kingdom? I thought that was a most forceful argument and I am most grateful to her for having made it.

I have just returned from three weeks in America. There the whole time one is questioned about these Irish problems. The Irish Foreign Secretary, Mr. Garrat Fitzgerald, has been extremely brave, as also has Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, in going over to America and pleading with the Boston Irish not to send money to the IRA so that they can then buy Russian arms from Colonel Gaddafi. I have no doubt whatsoever that the first IRA man to hang will become a martyr, not only in Ireland but also in America, and that the dollar fund for the IRA will be swelled overnight. Not only did those two Irish Ministers from Dublin go, but I heard great praise in the Consulates-General and the Embassy for the way Mr. John Hugh, for so short a time a Minister in Belfast, had gone out and pleaded with the Irish in America not to send money back to Ireland for the purchase of arms. This must be remembered in the context of the Irish problem which we are considering today.

Having on several occasions crossed swords with Mr. Enoch Powell, both in letters to the Press and publicly on the television screen, I would applaud him for his courage last night in another place in sticking to his principles. I have no doubt that what he did last night will be extremely unpopular with the extreme Protestants in Northern Ireland; but that he did it I must recognise, and I do applaud. Finally, I was so glad to see Mr. Whitelaw rise to his feet and stand by the principles which he introduced. I am sure they are correct, and I am sure that the British people must put up with this problem for as long as they possibly can. If ever it is necessary to reintroduce capital punishment in Britain, I hope it will be done for British reasons and not Irish ones.

6.6 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of DERBY

My Lords, we are taking part in an important national debate. I count myself privileged to be able to make my maiden speech in that part of the national debate which is taking place this evening in this House. I ask the indulgence of your Lordships as I speak about a very contentious matter, but I hope that I shall do so with fairness. May I also ask your indulgence if the long list of speakers, which I have not met hitherto in my experience of this House, necessitates my leaving before the debate is concluded because of engagements elsewhere early tomorrow morning. My Lords, this national debate about a matter of moral as well as political decision has been carried on with thoroughness and urgency. Apart from those who are prejudiced either way, there is widespread recognition that it is not an easy matter to come down on one side or the other over the question at issue.

After the first surge of emotion which followed the tragic killings in Birmingham, the national debate has been rationally conducted. The emotion of anger is not necessarily wrong. To fail to feel indignation over evils of the kind we have seen for so long in Northern Ireland. and more recently in this country, would be a serious defect of character. What we have to do is to find a way of giving this indignation both right and just expression. The public discusion of this issue, like this debate, has largely turned on whether capital punishment would be a more effective deterrent than the present penalties which can be enforced for murder. There is inevitably, as has been said, a large amount of guessing in the attempt to assess the degree of deterrence that any particular punishment has. In making our own judgment about the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent from acts of terrorism, it is inevitable that we bring other considerations to bear on our own personal thinking about the matter. It is mainly about the considerations which lie behind the argument for deterrence that I wish to speak.

A time when strong emotion is widely felt is one in which words can easily be misapplied. Implications are drawn from their use in one context which do not necessarily follow in another. This can do great harm to both thought and action. To take a current example, the word "war" is being used, with some justification, to describe the relationship into which we have been put with the IRA. It is legitimate to use the word to describe our present situation, but it does not follow that all those actions are right in our dealings with them which can be justified when the nation is at war. Wars differ from one another, and in any war there is a limitation on the methods of warfare employed by civilised people. Some account has to be taken of the character of the enemy and the reasons for his being at war. Part of the problem in Northern Ireland is that extremists on both sides are distorting causes which have truth and right in them. However minimal the truth and the right may be, the language of warfare can be very confusing when applied to the present situation and hinder us from making a right assessment of the effects of different forms of punishment, including capital punishment, as deterrents. To say that we are at war with the IRA is to be very far from producing an argument in favour of the reintroduction of capital punishment.

Punishment has always to be related to human responsibility. We have moved a long way from the time when each individual was regarded as being entirely responsible for every action that he performs. The law takes account, in certain cases, of diminished responsibility. We draw distinction as a matter of course in other areas of decision, but it is far from easy to see in many moral situations where the responsibility for wrong-doing chiefly lies and where punishment should most rightly be inflicted. Most murders are acts of individual responsibility. A man murders his wife or his wife's lover. His action arises out of his own personal history and his own relationships to them. The man's family upbringing, the influence of the society in which he has moved, and many other factors may have influenced him, but his individual responsibility is clear.

Terrorists who commit murder have individual responsibility and should be punished if they are found guilty, but in the present circumstances of IRA violence there is a great corporate responsibility as well. Men and women who are about 20 years of age are now being charged. This means that they were 15 or so when the present phase of the Irish troubles began. They have been indoctrinated, pressurised and cajoled by family and other loyalties. The men who are caught are not necessarily the most important in the whole sinister activity. To punish those who are caught to a degree which makes amendment of life, if not repentance, virtually impossible is a very rough and ready piece of justice. The point has already been made in the public discussion of this matter that one effect of reintroducing capital punishment would be that more and more young people and children would be used to plant bombs. We are working in an area where the precise degree of responsibility is very difficult to assess. Punishment there must be, but the administration of it must be seen to be fair, for we are wanting to convince evil men and women that their campaign is both wrong and useless. The execution of a limited number of them, even if they are proved to have performed particularly wrong acts, will not produce a change of mind while the most guilty go free. Once we arc aware of the difficulty of deciding who is responsible for the acts of terrorism of which murder is a by-product, the arguments in favour of the restoration of capital punishment for them are considerably weakened.

Any deterrence that capital punishment may exercise on likely offenders is bound to be less than it might be because these particular offenders do not in the least regard human life as sacred. Whether they themselves die for their cause or sacrifice the lives of innocent people, it is all justified by what is believed to be the rightness of the cause. The members of the IRA, as has been suggested already in this debate, are fanatics, like the Japanese suicide pilots of the last war. Death of any kind is justified in the struggle. Human life is cheap. To restore capital punishment in this situation would only reinforce the conviction that killing is a matter of indifference. However few the number of executions, they would add to the current excess of barbarity in the world. A just war has to have in it the power to persuade the enemy that his own taking up of arms is unjust. Those who are fighting to destroy some evil must win the battle partly through the strength of the right convictions that inspire it and partly by the justice of the methods they employ. To employ the same methods as the IRA in this particular war will only make them all the more convinced that their methods are right.

It is being argued—as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned—that, quite apart from any consequences, capital punishment is justified in the present situation because of the principle of retribution: "life for life", "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth". This element of Old Testament morality marked a great advance in human behaviour because it set a severe limit on the freedom of individuals and tribes to wreak uncontrolled vengeance. It set limits on revenge itself. Christ made clear that it is not an ultimate principle of conduct. He said that the individual seeking to do right must not exercise vengeance of any kind. He must not give tit-for-tat even in the most serious pursuit of justice, The principle of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is not, according to the New Testament, the ultimately right way of dealing with wrong.

In accepting this teaching, it is essential to recognise that what our Lord was saying was basically to do with the behaviour of individuals. The individual may well allow wrongs to be done to himself and maintain a spirit of complete forgiveness, but the State, while seeking to act in that spirit, must try to save its members and that means primarily its weaker members, from the consequences of the actions of evil men who have no respect for justice and humanity. In restraining evil, and doing corporately what it would be wrong for an individual man or woman to do, a principle of conduct which has been superseded must nevertheless not be made ultimate. Whatever compromise the community may have to accept to bring about restraint of evil, its methods must not deny the good that it is trying to secure. Some people may be able to find moral justification for treating the idea of "a life for a life" as an ultimate principle of conduct. They cannot find their justification in the teaching of Christ and the New Testament.

In our thought for those who have suffered through wrongs done and in our desire to preserve others from the same suffering, we need to consider also, as has been suggested to us already, the effects of capital punishment on those most closely involved in administering it. Although there are many occasions when others have to do things for us that we cannot do for ourselves, such as performing a severe surgical operation on a relative, everyone who urges that capital punishment should be reintroduced—and this includes the man in the street—must test himself to see whether he would be willing himself to release the hangman's rope or even be a spectator compelled to be present at a hanging. If there are those who would like to take part in this cold-blooded killing it simply means that there is a vindictiveness abroad which needs to be corrected. I am sure that the majority of those who are asking now for capital punishment have reached the point which Bishop Joseph Butler of Bristol, that distinguished Christian moralist, advised, of "sitting down in a cool hour" to think about the problem. Rational considerations such as I have attempted to adduce can seem far removed from the realities of destruction and murder, but evil things of the kind we have recently seen will not be controlled by evil passions.

For my own part, I could never say that capital punishment is always and everywhere wrong, but the balance of the argument at the present time seems to me to be strongly in favour of maintaining our present position. Deterrent effects arc to a large extent a matter of guesswork. Their statistics lend little support to the arguments adduced in favour of the reintroduction of capital punishment. All other considerations give great strength at the present time to the conclusion that its reintroduction would do the opposite of what is intended by those who urge it.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, it is my privilege to be the first to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby on the speech which we have just heard. I suppose that every new entrant to your Lordships' House is always glad when he has got his maiden speech over. I can only say that the right reverend Prelate was little controversial, that he was short and that he was to the point. Also he succeeded in not reproducing the arguments of the most reverend Primate and we shall certainly want to hear from him again soon.

First, may I reply briefly, although I had not intended to do so, to two arguments which were so persuasively put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Widgery. The first was that, as the average murderer only serves about twelve years, there is very little difference between what he serves and what somebody who has committed a far less bad crime would serve. This is a very old statement which has always been both true and untrue. I remember—when I say I remember I mean that I have read it—that in the debate in 1948, which I did not hear myself, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Jowitt, dealt with it, the noble Lord said, "They tell me that the average murderer only serves nine years." Therefore I sent for the files. The first file I opened related to a man who was released after 18 months. The second file I opened related to a man who had been in prison for 20 years and who was still there. The average may be 9 years, but what on earth does it mean? There has been no change here. I have just confirmed with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the position is still the same; there is every different kind of case. All that has happened is that the arithmetical average has gone up from 9 to 12 years; but again what does it mean?

Secondly, the noble Lord suggested that we ought really to have recast and made a better job of the Homicide Act. But does not that ignore these facts? First, hardly anybody has ever contended that all murderers should be hanged. The difficulty has always been: which murderers? People do not always agree as to what are the worst murders; but assuming that one could agree as to what are the worst murders and that one put all the murders committed in England in a year in a line from the least excusable on the left to the most excusable on the right, somewhere one has to put one's finger down and say, "Those on the left shall die and those on the right shall not". It inevitably follows—this is an argument which I have never found that any retentionist has been able to meet—that wherever you put your finger down, the case to the immediate right of the line and the case to the immediate left of the line are almost exactly the same case. If there be any distinguishable difference, it is certainly not one which justifies the difference between life and death.

Leaving that, my Lords, may I now say a word about opinion in Northern Ireland. I do so simply because I have been very occupied lately as chairman of a committee appointed by the Government whose terms of reference are: To consider what provisions and powers, consistent to the maximum extent practicable in the circumstances with the preservation of civil liberties and human rights, are required to deal with terrorism and subversion in Northern Ireland, including provisions for the administration of justice, and to examine the working of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 and to make recommendations. We have had to consider every section of the Act and how it is working. If one can find the people to do it, I think that it is a good thing to appoint a committee with time to examine how an Act like this is working, whether further powers for the security forces are called for, or whether some of their existing powers can be dispensed with. I have often thought that it might be worthwhile if we did this more often. Where an Act intimately affects the lives of large numbers of people—for instance, the Immigration Act—might not it be a good thing if, after a year or two, we appointed a committee to see how far Parliament's intentions have been carried out and what changes are, perhaps, desirable?

My Lords, I mention Northern Ireland for two reasons—first, because I have regretfully come to the conclusion that too often in the past Britain has legislated herself and has then applied that legislation to Northern Ireland, even though that legislation might not be at all suitable to Northern Ireland; and secondly because I am hoping that somebody who will be advocating the reintroduction of capital punishment for terrorism will tell us whether he would apply it to Northern Ireland or not. I noticed that last night the right honourable Member for Leeds North-East, Sir Keith Joseph, was in favour of having capital punishment for terrorism in England but not in Northern Ireland. Would not it be strange, in a sense, if, where the climate of violence is so much lower, we had capital punishment but not where the climate of violence is so much higher?

What is the position in Northern Ireland? Our Committee started work in June, which was not an easy time of the year. We felt that we had to give people to the end of August to make their representations, and in fact they went on making representations throughout September, October and November. For some time we have been sitting three days a week, in London and Belfast alternately. We have taken a great deal of evidence from the Army, the police, the Chief Constable, the superintendents, the CID, the Special Branch, the Chief Justice, High Court judges, the Bar, the Law Society, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Clerks of the Crown and Peace, the political Parties, every type of civil rights body in Northern Ireland and also some in England, the clergy, universities, and Irish trade unions. We have talked to police and soldiers on the ground. We have been to the Maze and to other prisons and have talked to prisoners and detainees. In all, we have had to give careful consideration to 157 memoranda and we have seen 97 witnesses. I say all this because, as I am about to express an opinion about what is public opinion in Ireland, I should not have dreamed of doing so in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, if it were not for this experience.

My Lords, we have to consider every section of the Act in turn. Section 1 of the Act is the one which abolished capital punishment for murder in Northern Ireland. It had not been used for 12 years but it was still on the Statute Book. Out of the 157 memoranda, not one asked for the reintroduction of capital punishment; and of the 97 witnesses, only two, and both from the same body, suggested its reintroduction. I have no doubt myself that informed public opinion in Northern Ireland opposed very much the reintroduction of capital punishment there, for several of the reasons which have already been given in the debate and which I will not repeat.

Our report will be in the hands of the Government within a few days, but I cannot, of course, say what our recommendations will be, because naturally they are confidential to the Government. However, the Secretary of State has told me that he would have no objection if I were to tell the House what I thought of public opinion in Northern Ireland.

There are some additional difficulties so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. I agree with what has been said about the history of martyrdom and I do not want to add to it, except to remind the House that during the weekend we saw a statement from the Vatican that Oliver Plunkett was being canonised. He was the Primate of All Ireland who, on evidence thought ridiculous at the time, was convicted of treason and was hanged and drawn and quartered at Tyburn; that is to say, he was hanged and then cut down while alive and then disembowelled while alive. I gather that he was convicted solely on the pretensions of Titus Oates's Popish plot, which as we now know was a compete invention of Titus Oates.

If you are going to restore capital punishment—and this applies to both countries—I suppose everyone would agree that it should not be imposed except on the verdict of a jury. There is no difficulty in that in England, except that you must first decide whether you are going to accept a majority verdict in a capital case. There is no difficulty of course in England in getting an English jury to convict a member of the IRA who has planted a bomb; indeed a verdict might be obtainable too easily. But juries no longer exist for terrorist offences in Northern Ireland because of the degree of intimidation of witnesses and of jurors, so that problem would have to be resolved. Then, as to the actual jury, again in England there is no difficulty. But what sort of jury do you have in Northern Ireland? The accused has a limited right of challenging jurors; the Crown has an unlimited right of saying, "Stand by for the Crown", and replacing one juror with another as long as the panel lasts, but there are obvious difficulties which will occur to your Lordships as to how you are to get the right jury for the right case.

Lastly, there is the difficulty of the age at which one can be hanged. Are we going to reduce this from 18? If we do not, certainly in the conditions of Northern Ireland, are not those of 16 or 17 going to be employed? With their existing powers the security forces in Northern Ireland today are containing terrorism. I can mention some figures because they were mentioned in another place last night. In 1972 the bombings were 1,382; in 1973, 978; in 1974, 648. Shootings in 1972 were 10,628—this is in a population of about a million and a half. To arrive at comparative figures for England you would have to multiply by thirty. It is possible that the people of Northern Ireland may think that they know rather more about terrorism in its actual experience than the people of England. As I have said, the figures for shootings was 10,628 in 1972. In 1973 the figure was 5,018, and for the first eleven months of 1974 the figure was 3,052. The IRA know that they are losing ground. A great many of their leaders now are either in prison, having been convicted before one of the courts which sit without juries, or are detained. I am certain myself that the reintroduction of capital punishment in Northern Ireland would do more to increase the level of violence than to lower it, and that Mr. Whitelaw was right in the view which he took, that further capital punishment of terrorists would cost the lives of a great many of our soldiers and of our police.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to start by offering my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Derby. As I am afraid he will hear from my short remarks, I cannot support him in the conclusions of his speech. But I hope I may say that the manner of his speech will make all of your Lordships wish to hear him very often in this House.

On many occasions in your Lordships' House I have voted for the retention, or for the reintroduction, of the death penalty on the grounds that it was a unique deterrent from murder. I would still support its reintroduction for that reason alone. If I may say so, the quite exceptional speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Widgery, strengthens me in that view. But I believe that there is another, and even more pressing, reason why the death penalty must be brought back for murder, and as I am going to confine what I have to say to that I hope I may be excused from the formidable task of following the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, in his arguments.

Punishment is not only a deterrent; it is also an expression, by its relative severity, of the State's abhorrence of a particular crime. There may be thought to be worse crimes than murder, and there may be worse things to suffer than death, but death is the ultimate outrage that one man can inflict on another, because whatever else has been done to him in mind or body he can still be killed. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said that the death penalty inflicted by the State weakens respect for human life and I think the right reverend Prelate also expressed that view. I believe exactly the opposite to be the case.

In the years since the abolition of the death penalty, since the State has denied itself the ability to express the ultimate horror at the ultimate crime, in this country we have come to look on murder not with the horror we used to, but almost with apathy, as a distasteful but not very unusual part of the world we live in, When we hear on the eight o'clock news on the radio of yet another British soldier being murdered in Northern Ireland, it sickens us at the time but it is too frequent an occurence to make a lasting impression.

Driving back from your Lordships' House in January 1972, I listened to a programme on Radio 4 called "It's Your Line" in which Miss Bernadette Devlin, among others, answered questions put by listeners over the telephone and, in doing so, gave her approval to the motives and actions of the IRA. I was appalled, not so much that Miss Devlin gave aid and comfort to the enemies of The Queen in the way that she did, not even so much that the BBC gave her the facilities of their air space which enabled her to do so, but at the fact that the telephone lines to the BBC were not jammed and their postbags tilled by protests from an angry British public.

Just how many protests were received on that occasion I cannot say but coming nearer to home, to the even more iniquitous television interview with David O'Connell on 17th November, I can tell your Lordships how many complaints were received. The Independent Broadcasting Authority had eight letters of protest and nine telephone calls; and the programme company responsible, London Weekend Television, had 10 letters and 60 telephone calls, 20 of which thought the programme was a good thing.

This sort of regretful acceptance of murder as a disagreeable but unavoidable fact of life is leading to a state of society where such outrages can happen and will increase. We do not care enough about it any more, and we will not do so until the State is prepared to take a lead once again and express its abhorrence of such crime by the severity of its punishment. I believe that the time is overdue when the death penalty should be reintroduced, not perhaps as a mandatory sentence but as an alternative to life imprisonment available to judges, and with the Home Secretary having very wide discretion to commute, except in cases where there are no mitigating circumstances and no room for doubt of guilt.

But I should not like to see it brought back for acts of terrorism alone, for two reasons. The first reason is that some other murders are as brutal and as indiscriminate as are acts of terrorism; for instance, the murder in cold blood of an unarmed police officer in Blackpool, or the knifing of a boy in a seaside resort by some thug who took exception to the way he looked at him. Secondly, I feel that there is something to be said for the argument that discrimination against terrorists, by bringing back the death penalty for them alone, would possibly lead to reprisals against uninvolved men and women. But there is no doubt that acts of terrorism would come into the worst category of murder, and would therefore incur the death penalty. And to those who would shrink from it for fear of reprisals, I would only say this: If there is one lesson we ought to have learnt in our lifetime it is that appeasement never pays.

My Lords, I know that many people, and some of your Lordships are among them, regard the death penalty with such revulsion that they feel it would never be justifiable to bring it back, no matter how horrible the crime and no matter how efficacious it might prove. At the time of the many abolition debates, we were asked this question: "However obnoxious the crime, have we the moral right as a State to take life?" I feel that the time has come when we must reverse this question, and in that form I would put it to your Lordships: "However obnoxious the death penalty may be, have we the moral right to withhold from the country whatever protection it may afford?"


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he say what age limit he would apply for the infliction of the death penalty?


My Lords, I should think probably the last one of about eighteen. But when you are considering which crimes should incur the death penalty, I would say that persuading some young boy or girl to murder somebody else would itself become in the very highest category of crime.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, I feel that this debate, without a vote at the end of it, is merely an airing of views and is, therefore, very nearly an academic exercise. Many of your Lordships voted against bringing back capital punishment. They voted for abolishing capital punishment at the time, which was about nine or ten years ago, but I should like to show that we are not in the same situation today. That number, by the way, included myself.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Reid, pointed out in the debate on the 17th and 18th December 1969, when we were considering the extension of the experimental period, that: The question of murder is most closely related with the question of criminal violence. We have seen, unchecked, a rapid increase of deliberate brutal criminal violence. He concluded by saying: …I can see nothing which is going to prove to the criminal that we are really in earnest …". Those were the views of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reid. I suggest that the situation is now really quite different. The wave of violence has worsened—I do not have figures, I must admit, but we are asked not to deal in figures today—and shows no signs of easing. In fact, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Widgery, said that the degree of violence has worsened. So I think we ought to consider this new situation. Statistics point both ways, so we cannot go by statistics, but I honestly believe that the experiment has failed. The trial period has failed.

I will give an example or two. Last week in your Lordships' House we passed at great speed an Act to proscribe the IRA among other things. The police have acted creditably and speedily on it, but it has not stopped the bombing. Apart from the indiscriminate mass murder of 21 people in Birmingham—and their relatives have never been mentioned in this debate—I believe that what is going on now is war against the State. I personally think we ought to look at it afresh from that point of view. Personally, I feel very strongly that the penalty, whatever it is we decide, should be right and should not be deviated from because of martyrs, hostages, et cetera.

The general public and its feelings, should, in my opinion, be considered in this context. If we do not consider it, it will take the law into its own hands. Mrs. Jill Knight received 8,000 letters advocating the return to capital punishment, but only 115 against. Those are quite impressive figures. We have already seen signs of this from the taxi drivers, about whom the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made remarks. I used to think that the taxi drivers of London were a not very above average lot, but I think they behaved extremely well on this occasion, and it is absolutely in line with the 82 of them who went to Israel on the day the last war there was declared and who were driving tank transporters on the Golan Heights the very next day. Eighty-two London taxi drivers. I thought that was marvellous. But it will not be long before they take the law into their own hands, and the people of Birmingham have every right to do that. I dread to think what would have happened if the bomber had been caught, not by the police but by the general public.

In my opinion the general public have been very long-suffering in this matter, and especially the relatives. I think they would back the Government in any measure which stopped the violence, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Widgery, said that that was the key point. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Denham, when he said that there must not be any appeasement, that the general public will not back appeasement of any kind. The noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, said that Ireland was the root of the trouble, and I dare say it is. I dare say that we would not be having this debate unless it was the IRA, who had caused much of the trouble.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, gave us an account of the legal side of his inquiry. I should like to consider for a moment the effect of bringing back the death penalty in Ireland. I suggest that two things would result. First of all, the IRA recruiters would be very worried. They know that eventually it will be the only way. We must suffer the death penalty. The second thing is that this man O'Connell who is Chief of Staff of the IRA said that he would hang two British soldiers for every IRA member who was hanged. The reason he said that was because he is frightened of the death penalty being brought back.


Does the noble Lord realise that Mr. O'Connell is in no danger at all. He is in the sun.


I never said that he was in danger. He made this statement from outside Dublin, but it does not detract from the fact that he is Chief of Staff of the IRA, and he made this promise of "two for one", which I shall not repeat. He is the last person to say this if he did not realise that it would be an effective deterrent. We have never won a war by appeasement, and we are in a war in Northern Ireland. Personally, I do not think appeasement is the right way to go about it. We must do what is right.

My Lords, for these reasons, I should like to suggest a course of action. We arc not discussing practicalities today, because there is no question of our changing the law. But if we were forced into it and Northern Ireland was still an exception, then the Secretary of State at that time must deal with it. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, said, if judges have no juries and deal with it by themselves, juries are absolved from dealing with murder cases. I think it is extremly difficult. Northern Ireland may have to be an exception. But for those reasons, I have always backed the death penalty for war against the State including, of course, the commutation or reprieve, if necessary, and many people have been reprieved. It should be reintroduced for conviction of war against the State. This covers the murder of policemen, prison officers, as well as terrorists and hijackers.

6.51 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, is always listened to with much respect in this House, and I will try to follow his example in being commendably brief, particularly after all the arguments have been so well deployed by so many speakers, beginning with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. But I venture to take quite strong exception to two remarks which fell from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, although he may not have intended to put them quite as he did. The first remark was ungenerous, and the second was positively dangerous. I hope he will withdraw it. In passing, the noble Lord said he had not heard any expressions of sympathy for the relatives of victims. If I may say so, I think that was a rather unnecessary remark. Sympathy has been expressed repeatedly both in this House and elsewhere. However, I do not think that is a harmful remark. It is just not quite up to the usual standards of the noble Lord. But his next remark was very dangerous, and this I hope he will withdraw. He said that the people of Birmingham would have been quite right to take the law into their own hands. Coming from a man of the eminence of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and speaking in this place, I regard that as a monstrous remark, and I hope he will withdraw it.


My Lords, for a start, I did not say it. I am very surprised that the people of Birmingham did not take the law into their own hands. That is what I said.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords. I took down the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne.


My Lords, we shall see. If I did say that, then of course I did not mean it. What I meant was that I was very surprised at the people of Birmingham not taking the law into their own hands. With reference to the relatives of victims, if I made a mistake on that I apologise to the House and to the noble Earl.

The Earl of LONGFORD

There is no need to apologise to me. The days of people apologising to me are long since past. As I took him down, the noble Lord said that he was surprised they had not taken the law into their own hands, and people would have had the right to take the law into their own hands. But he has now disclaimed that. However, it was worth clearing up the point. I must not spend any longer on dialetics with the noble Lord.

I should like to say a few words on capital punishment and then on the terrorist aspect, although when I come to that I will be very tempted to become involved in an argument with anyone. I missed the earlier remarks of the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, who said that in some way this was the fault of Ireland. That could be put ill a number of different ways, but as I did not hear what the noble Lord said, and know only what the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said. I will not say much more about it.


Not a very reliable reporter.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, let us take capital punishment in general. There is not much that is new that can be said about this. There are one or two veterans from the debate of 1956—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and myself. But that debate was nearly 20 years ago, and I do not know whether any new arguments have been discovered in that time A great change has come over this question in the last 40 or so years. It will be discovered that in 1930 all the Bishops in this House—and I am so glad to see them so strongly represented today; this is a subject which fascinates them, and rightly so, and I say this is in the best possible spirit—with the exception of Archbishop Temple, as he was later known, were all in favour of capital punishment, after 1,930 years of Christianity. If I say that about the Bishops, who are of necessity Anglican, I am not implying that the Roman Catholic Bishops were any more enlightened; perhaps they did not have an Archbishop Temple, for all I know. But that was the attitude after all those years of Christianity.

But time passed, and people moved around, and in 1956, by a large vote, this House rejected a Bill passed by the House of Commons in favour of abolition. A few years ago, we abolished capital punishment by votes of this House and of the House of Commons. How has this change come about? What have been the factors which have brought about the change? It is really the result of prolonged studies led by people like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, and others—studies conducted here and all over the world into the deterrent effect of capital punishment. It has been at last accepted that it is not a unique deterrent.

My Lords, in the last debate it was assumed that capital punishment was a loathsome step; no one would want to butcher his fellow men in cold blood, but it was necessary if one was to prevent, say, an increase in the murder rate. Or, to put it crudely, it is better to execute three guilty men than allow three innocent men to be murdered as a result of your not executing them. It was the deterrent argument which prevailed all through the years until these studies. If I may say so with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, this deterrent argument has now been routed. It has been accepted by anyone who cares to look into it, though not necessarily by the general public, that the death penalty is no longer a unique deterrent. That has brought about this great change.

I need not spend more time on capital punishment in general, but may I come to the question immediately before the House? Although I should not like to describe this as in some way an Irish question, or the product of some special quality in the Irish character, I would agree that it is discussed today in particular relationship to the IRA and other killings taking place in Northern Ireland, although I fully appreciate that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, was trying to set it in a wider context at the end of his speech.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Earl, may I suggest that if he reads the report of what I said in Hansard I do not believe he will disagree with it.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, the noble Lord is such a good friend of mine that if he says that I am sure it is true.


My Lords, if I may interrupt, what the noble Lord said was a great deal more offensive than even what was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, speaking as half an Irishman.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I did not hear what was said by the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine. Obviously, we have here a question related to the Irish terrorism. Whether it is the terrorism of the IRA or Protestant terrorism in Northern Ireland, it could always spread here. But whether it is carried on by nominal Catholics or Protestants, I do not think any of us regard the practitioners of this kind of violence as religious people. At this stage of their lives, we agree it springs up in relation to this question of Northern Ireland.

Without wishing to involve the noble Lord in any further argument, he will, of course, recall that unconstitutional action and military preparations were introduced into Ireland by the Unionist leaders, supported by the Conservative leaders, in the years before 1914. Today, as the noble Lord knows better than any of us, there is Lord Carson standing outside Stormont as a kind of memorial to the success of unconstitutional action. He is the one who organised military force and defied the Parliament at Westminster. So the violence, if you want to go far enough back, does not start with the IRA. But those who have played leading parts in Ireland have, of course, been faced with this problem in all sorts of different ways. Mr. de Valera, whom I admired very much, has described how he entered politics and later joined the Irish Volunteers, because of the steps taken by Lord Carson and his colleagues before the war. That is simply history. The Ulster Volunteers came first and the Irish Volunteers came next, and they are in effect the ancestors of the present IRA.

Here I want the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, to feel that I do not come in this simplest of all moods; I do not simply say that it is forbidden, wicked, and anti-Christian ever to end the life of anyone who is threatening the State. Mr. de Valera, when he was Prime Minister of Ireland during the war, and his Government executed two members of the IRA who were involved in an organised assault on the State. That is history which the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, will know very well. So there are these great problems, and I think one must look at this problem today and ask oneself what would be the consequences of extending the death penalty to terrorists—meaning here, in particular, Irish terrorists.

I have not met anybody who is now in prison convicted or charged with murder, but I have met young men who are doing life sentences as a result of bomb outrages in this country. So I am talking of something which I know a little about, when I am talking about the mind of the terrorist. I do not say that I have a profound knowledge, but I have talked to these young men. The first one I visited was reading the Prison Letters of Countess Markievicz. She was a guerrilla leader who was the first woman ever to be elected to the British House of Commons. That was a curious by-product of her activities. At any rate, that is what the young man was reading, and another one had just been reading my own Life of de Valera. So that they may have had an unsettling effect. At any rate, they are students who feel they are continuing the revolutionary tradition of Ireland. This has to be understood and accepted; not that everybody who commits a murder in Ireland is of that kind, but there are some like that, and there are others who are just hooligans or thugs. I do not know them personally. But we have to think of these young people when we begin discussing what we are going to do about them.

The kind of people to whom I am referring, students, would in some moods certainly love to die for Ireland, like many people have died for England in great wars—and what the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, said about many of them regarding this as war is perfectly true. But if these people—we will call them fanatics; it is a simple word and it is true in their case—are to be executed, that will certainly not affect them, and will not stop them or their brothers doing the same thing. What I am really more concerned with is the point that has been made by a number of speakers—for example, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—about the wider area of the Irish population in this country and elsewhere.

I am President of a large working-class youth centre in London, which is called the Irish Centre. All these young Irish people come there and join in the ordinary club activities, particularly when they first arrive from Ireland. The director of that Centre, I am glad to say, is priest. Some people seem to imagine that the clergy have not been very active in condemning violence. I would, in passing, say how delighted I was to hear from the most reverend Primate what is the latest news on that side. But the priest who is the director of this Irish Centre for young Irish working men has denounced the killings in the plainest possible way, and I am sure that that represents the opinion of the overwhelming number of young Irishmen in a club like that, or elsewhere in London, Birmingham or anywhere else.

As was said—and here I believe I am quoting the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, correctly when he referred to the 1916 executions—no-one who has read any Irish history doubts that if you executed a number of people (it would not be one or two; if you applied this law sensibly you would have to execute quite a number) you would turn the whole Irish population, or the whole of the young Irish population, against this country and it would be an absolutely fatal step. That is the negative side.

However, there seems to be no question of taking this appalling step, so I do not want to end on too gloomy a note. The House of Commons has turned down the idea and opinion here is strongly against it, so I do not want to give the impression that I see this disaster just around the corner. Let us agree to go on as we are going—hard enough in all conscience—to find the path of justice and humanity in regard to Ireland, and I believe that all people of good will in this country are determined to find it.

7.7 p.m.


My Lords, I have always been opposed to capital punishment on moral and on humanitarian grounds. But having lived through the last five years in Northern Ireland, I have found this to be a more and more difficult position to sustain. Whereas morality ought to be absolute and the sanctity of life inviolate, how, in circumstances where law and order has broken down, where morality has become a matter of subjective judgment, where life is expendable, can comparisons be avoided? Which is more immoral, which is less humane, for the State deliberately, legally and coldly to take the life of a murderer, or for more innocent lives to be lost because that murderer knows that he is not going to have to suffer the supreme penalty? It is with this in mind, and with the greatest reluctance, that I submit that in the peculiar circumstances that have obtained in Northern Ireland, and, I sincerely hope, will not obtain in the rest of the United Kingdom, it is no longer possible to make a clear case for or against capital punishment on moral or humane grounds.

It is equally difficult to make an objective judgment of the subject, because it is virtually impossible to avoid one's judgment being clouded by the environment in which one finds oneself, or by the personal tragedy and grief to which one may be subjected. Perhaps the most natural and human emotion that clouds one's judgment can be that of vengeance, and I must confess that I myself have succumbed to this. Almost every day one reads in the Press in Northern Ireland of further atrocities, and the natural reaction is a general feeling of anger, resentment and frustration. But when, with virtual disbelief, you read that the latest victim has been a personal friend or relation of your own, or a neighbour, suddenly the whole thing comes into focus. Suddenly that feeling ceases to be general, and becomes particular. Any measured, reasoned judgment that one might otherwise make is overwhelmed by a burning desire for vengeance, and for bitter vengeance.

I am afraid it happened to me. I remember the afternoon when I heard the news that a fellow UDR officer of mine, who had recently resigned from the Regiment, had been kidnapped by the IRA. This was a man whom I had known all my life. I was at school with him, he was a great friend of mine, and he had been kidnapped by the IRA, for a number of hours tortured in an indescribably bestial manner, and finally shot. If it had so happened that I had chanced on patrol the following night with the UDR to apprehend an IRA man, I should have had to call upon my every resource of military training and discipline to have been responsible for my actions. I certainly would have been in no position to have come here and participate in a debate on the subject in your Lordships' House.

One tries to get over this sort of thing. The reason why I quote this as an example is that, when making an assessment, one must try to put aside those things which cloud one's judgment. As other noble Lords have said, in my view the one criterion on which the judgment should be made is whether or not capital punishment is a deterrent. The arguments have been put many times before on many occasions, and in debates to which your Lordships have referred. I accept that a man who commits a murder in a blind fury of rage takes no account of the subsequent consequences; a man who panics when trapped conducting an armed robbery and commits murder, at that moment takes no account of the consequences. But what about the assassination gang who deliberately go out with their weapons and hi-jack a car, set forth to a given location, and proceed, as happened to a relation of a neighbour of mine recently, to gun down the manager of a petrol filling station and the female petrol pump attendant aged 17. They knew what they were doing; they were aware of what they were about, and equally they were aware that if they had been surprised by the security forces while trying to make their get-away they could have been shot there and then without any recourse to appeal, or without being able to find witnesses to evidence that in fact they had been in a completely different location at the time the crime was committed.

But this does not seem to have any deterrent effect on those who continue to commit such appalling crimes. Similarly, there have been many instances of those who have blown themselves up when manufacturing or planting bombs—and, I am sorry to say, serve them jolly well right—but people continue to manufacture and plant bombs aware of the fate that has overcome their late colleagues, a fact that does not seem to act as a deterrent.

Then one has to consider the effect on public opinion of capital punishment. Martyrs have been referred to, but before martyrdom takes place it is worth bearing in mind that the only way the long-term prisoner can have his name retained in the public mind is by a well-publicised hunger strike. This lasts for a certain length of time, and if he does not press it through to the end, like John Stevenson—who calls himself Sean Mc'Stiofian, I think he is Irish—and falters before he presses it through to the bitter end, he remains almost a forgotten name now and a figure of ridicule. So therefore the long-term prisoner does not have such a long-term effect as the martyr who is executed. The long-term prisoner disappears into oblivion, but he who is executed can live on in ballard, verse and tradition almost indefinitely.

Before the execution takes place—because the execution cannot take place the day after conviction, there are appeal procedures to be gone through—there is every opportunity for public demonstrations, blocking of streets, whipping up of emotion, and this is all dangerous. But one must say that Irish history is littered with the despicable memories of those who became heroes, martyrs, simply because their sordid lives were ended by State execution, and the glory that was posthumously synthesised around their inglorious memory has so spurred the weak minded of subsequent generations that they themselves do not flinch from facing similar notoriety.

There is another factor which should not be overlooked—and this has been mentioned before—the completely unscrupulous way in which the terrorist leaders are prepared to coerce young people into carrying out their criminal deeds for them. It is well known that many atrocities have been committed by persons whose age is such that even when capital punishment was still operative in Great Britain they would have been too young. Would your Lordships really be prepared to have capital punishment reintroduced for persons of the age of 12 or 13 years? That is what it would take if it was going to mop up all the people who would be likely to become involved in this kind of thing.

There are other practical factors, too, which should not be disregarded. If an assassination gang, or murderers, are surprised in the event, and know that if apprehended and convicted they will face capital punishment, what incentive is there for them to surrender? They might as well shoot it out with the possible, and indeed probable, further loss of life on the part of the Security Forces or passers-by. Intelligence is one of the most important factors in the campaign against terrorism, today, certainly in Northern Ireland, and it has been demonstrated following the Birmingham carnage how important intelligence has been in making satisfactory arrests.

There have been some instances publicised—probably more not publicised—where accessories to crimes have found that they could not live with their consciences and have turned Queen's Evidence. There was an instance, only last week, I think, of a member of the Ulster Defence Association. I would seriously question whether such evidence, and such intelligence, would have been forthcoming if the informer had known that his previous colleagues, on whom he was going to inform, would face capital punishment as opposed to a term of imprisonment. It is very likely that useful and essential sources of intelligence might dry up if capital punishment were reintroduced.

Then there is the most horrifying crime of all, which has also been mentioned, the taking of hostages. In Great Britain until now—and I pray that it will continue like this—when a murderer commits a crime and gets away he is on his own. He may be able to disappear in some kind of underworld, but there are not many such underworlds. In a climate such as there is in Northern Ireland—where, I am sorry to say, there are still "No-go" areas irrespective of what the newspapers say, irrespective of what the information office may say—there are still areas where the police cannot move freely to make investigations. The Army go through with armoured patrols, but in the little back alleys and the small houses the police cannot move freely to conduct their investigations. Such areas can harbour the criminals. Hostages could be taken into them and they would have very little chance of being rescued. I shudder to think of the effect that this would have. If innocent people, possibly prominent people, such as members of the judiciary who were murdered only a few months ago, were kidnapped by terrorists and taken hostage, what a dilemma the Government would find themselves in! How the prestige of the terrorists would rise; how public confidence in law and order would be shattered! This indeed does not hear thinking about.

I have tried to give a balanced account of my own view. I am not convinced that capital punishment would act as a deterrent. I fear that it would he counterproductive. I tend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, that tf in another place last night the vote had gone in favour of capital punishment those most pleased would have been the IRA themselves because it would have given them another powerful weapon in their armoury. I am not closed-minded. If noble Lords who are still to speak and those who are to wind up from the Front Benches can convince me otherwise, I am prepared to change my mind. But the way it is at the moment it is an agonising decision for me to make. I come out firmly against capital punishment, either here or in Northern Ireland. In saying that I am aware that I will lose popularity should I be reported in my part of the country. Looking at the list of your Lordships who are speaking in today's debate, I am perhaps the only one who is an elected representative in another place. I know that in saying this, if it is reported, I will lose votes. But I would not wish to insult the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, or to be so contemptuous of your Lordships' House that I would come here to attempt to gain any electoral advantage.

This is not a matter of seeking votes but of searching one's conscience. This is not a matter of popularity but a matter of soul-disturbing and spiritually disquieting challenge to oneself. That is my feeling about it at the moment. If there is a deterrent required (and I am sure that every step must be taken to defeat terrorism) I sincerely hope that the findings of the Report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, which we are shortly to receive, will provide sufficient strengthening of the law to enable that to be brought about.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, I shall keep the House only a few minutes. I have just two points to bring before your Lordships. I must start by saying that I have always been anti-capital punishment. I do not know that I thought about it very seriously when I was young. In fact my sympathies lay with the governor of the prison, the chaplin, the warders who looked after the man or woman in the condemned cell, and the hangman and his assistant. Although I did not think very far through on that position I was against execution.

I come to my two points which are derived from talking to two young officers serving in Northern Ireland. One is the son of a friend of mine who has done his first period of service and will no doubt be going back again. The other is my grandson who is in the middle of his second period of time in Northern Ireland. We have had many talks. He rings me up nearly every night because he is terribly interested in politics and knows that I am, too. Both these young men say the same thing: "For God's sake! do not have capital punishment. All that will happen is that worse things will happen to all of us and all the other people." I feel those sentiments very strongly, too. Such a course would lay us open to quite a number of new problems. The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, mentioned kidnapping and holding up for ransom, and so on. All those activities, which have not developed as yet, will certainly develop. It is too easy. These I people see such tactics all over the world and they will certainly use them as well to further their aims.

What my two young friends say is that "like should be like". Only last night my grandson told me that all the IRA prisoners believed there will be an amnesty in a short time and that, of course, they will all be released. I was delighted to hear on several occasions this evening that if there is an amnesty those who have murdered will not be released. That is very encouraging. I hope we stick to it.

My grandson also said, "If only we could put these people into solitary confinement." I had not thought of it but I considered that possibly there would be a great deal of difficulty in finding solitary confinement space for them. He added, "I would get those two sisters away from each other. That is something for you to think about." These are two men who have been, and are going, through all the troubles and the miseries in Northern Ireland. They did not ask to be sent there. As soldiers they are sent.

I wondered whether, if the IRA regarded themselves as an army, why they could not be tried by court-martial and shot? It is perfectly normal to do that in war, and these people are at war with us. I remember my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone saying that the offence of treason still existed. These terrorists are certainly treasonable to Her Majesty the Queen, so why could not we try them, if they are caught, by court-martial and then have them shot by a firing squad? That is my only suggestion.

My Lords, I conclude by saying that when I married my husband, Walter Monckton, I did not know much about legal matters. But I listened a great deal to he and his friends talking. There was much talk about capital punishment before the measure had been done away with. I can remember so well how some of them talked about what they called the "hanging judges". Anyone in this House who was at the Bar at that time would know whom I mean by the "hanging judges". My husband was violently anti-hanging. A moment came when Sir Winston Churchill asked him to leave the Ministry of Labour and go to the Home Office. He refused. I asked why. He said, "I am not going to be the Secretary of State for Home Affairs who signs death warrants."

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be brief. I tabled my name for the debate in order to make only two points which convinced me that the terrorists are quite the wrong people on whom to inflict the death penalty, not only because of very strong reasons and arguments suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine (to mention only two of many speakers), but because of the very nature of the terrorist. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, was nearest to expressing my point of view on this matter when she said: They are either psycopaths, fanatics or acting under duress.' She added: In many cases they are young. On every count the death sentence is entirely inappropriate.

My second reason is that we must not lose sight of the fact that these people are at war. I know that this point has also been stressed by many other noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to it as waging this hideous form of warfare. Warfare, my Lords, is always hideous; but however horrible and outrageous the crimes of these terrorists, I suppose that so far they have done nothing quite so horrible as dropping flaming phosphorous on to Vietnamese villages. Although among them there may be hired assassins and other criminals, some of them believe that they are fighting a just war, and even a religious war; and if by some miracle peace were restored to Ireland their activities would stop. They are the very people who, of all criminals, should not be executed.

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, so much has been said, and so well said, in this long debate, and so much of what I intended to say has been said already, that I think that perhaps I can devote my time to one point which I do not think has been touched on, and that is the debated point about the popular approval of capital punishment and the popular desire for it. If anyone says that, on a plebiscite taken tomorrow without any information, the people would vote for capital punishment, I think it likely they would be right. I went to Oldham in 1937 as a complete stranger. I am still naïve enough to think that it is one of the most civilised towns in England. It is almost equally divided on religious views, with a very large Irish Catholic population. But it has the advantage of an independent, civilised local newspaper which I think can rival any provincial newspaper in England and which still manages to survive against the competition of Manchester and its Press, although Oldham is now, alas!, a part of Manchester. When I went to Oldham, I was told at an early stage that there was a good deal of disagreement with my views on capital punishment and that I ought to do something about it. I said that I would be very happy to. We organised a very special well-advertised meeting to deal solely with the subject. I think we had more than one meeting, and they were well attended. They consisted mostly of questions. I am not suggesting for a moment that I, with my limited powers, convinced many people, but it was the last time that I ever came across this controversy for some time.

My Lords, in my Division there was a small, unpretentious pub with the name, "Help the Poor Straggler". The licence-holder was a man who held a very aristocratic Norman name, but that does not quite complete the curiosity of the situation. From time to time he would leave with a little black bag for a night in London, in Bristol or in Manchester, and would return probably by a train which had left at about ten o'clock in the morning. Once he left on a rather more important visit. He went to Germany, to Nuremburg, where he was introduced to some of the most outstanding personalities of the Nazi Party; and he said goodbye to most of them for the last time. Let me say that, much as I have always detested capital punishment, Pierrepoint behaved himself with strict scruple, and I never heard a complaint about his talking about his occupation. But it was the morbidity of it; it was the buses which brought loads from Blackpool to visit the inn. He was not responsible for that—that was during centenary celebrations, and so on. It was the atmosphere, which seems to affect even those in favour of capital punishment; because he is a devoted public servant who has carried out his duties strictly in accordance with the law, with the utmost reticence and with great restraint, and, although he has now become an author and I understand has declared himself that capital punishment is not a deterrent, no one has yet submitted his name for that recognition which is normally given to civil servants with many years of service.

A year or two later came the Moors murders. The corpses were buried just North of Oldham, and at that particular time the horror of it undoubtedly affected men of the utmost good will and women of the utmost good will. There was a general feeling of horror about it. I fought a General Election within a few months of it happening, without any noticeable effect upon the vote. I may be quite wrong, but I think that if, today, you held a plebiscite on the Common Market, the vote of the average person would be against it. If you are going to hold a plebiscite, the people must have information and they must be insulated against some of the bias of the daily Press—and some of the misrepresentations. I made it quite clear that I should not alter my mind in deference to my constituency. I told them that I was always willing to resign. Indeed, I told them that I was willing to resign on anything; that if the political Labour Party in Oldham asked me to resign on any issue I would resign without question. That is the background of information.

Now may I turn to one of the things said by the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, who has been wise enough, after sitting in the Chamber the whole afternoon, to leave us for a moment for sundry and necessary refreshment. He said—and I think much the same expression was made by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath—that the Provisional IRA would be delighted, it would be a victory for them, if they could say that their terrorism had pushed us back towards the past. Lord O'Neill, who has already won special respect in this matter for a book in which he wrote with great restraint but with restrained frankness about some of the origins of the trouble, spoke true of the martyrology of Ireland, of the names that glow from the halo of the covenants in the Irish hagiology to those who perish on the scaffold, to those who win fame in the dark—young fools like Robert Emmet, who, by a single and grandly immortal speech, won atone for the most ridiculous, the most contemptible the most useless of all the Irish risings.

My Lords, one of the difficulties in dealing with terrorists is its imitative faculty. There is a romance about crime; there always has been. There is a romantic attraction to violence if it is cultivated. A lot of organisations spring up. It is now known that the wretched, silly murders in Phoenix Park were not the work of the Irish movement. They were detested by the whole Irish movement as another of those melaneholv incidents which occur so often in Ireland, inflaming public opinion against them at a time when things were going their way. All these stories of violence are popular. Nobody relates the moving stories, the stories of, for example, the victims of the Phoenix Park murders—Burke, the civil servant, and Lord Frederick Cavendish. Burke's sister, as a nun, ministered to the criminals in prison—and, worst of all, the murderer went to the scaffold with a crucifix presented by Lady Frederick Cavendish. Those are the stories which show something of the emotion that can be developed.

The most reverend Primate put the moral case with an engaging simplicity and with an oratory that was both modest and impressive. He put the Christian case. I am not a Christian; but as an agnostic I regard the New Testament as a most forceful, most clear and most explicit moral document. I hope that the economic situation will not drive us all to studying the Koran, which I found less rewarding. The most reverend Primate was supported, in a maiden speech to which I would apply very similar words, by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Derby. He mentioned that dreadful word "indoctrination". My Lords, that is the fear; that is the toll of the situation.

Is it not enough that the kids of Northern Ireland should be brought up amidst murders? Is it not enough that they should lose their relatives to gangsterism, without their being deliberately indoctrinated into crime, without their being used? Indoctrination is a dreadful weapon and one that seems even more effective today. Perhaps as the human mind gets fuller it gets more vulnerable. It took just three years at the most to turn Irma Grese from a little Catholic schoolteacher of 15 into the "Beast of Belsen". We saw the Hitler Youth responding with indoctrinated action and with a heroic and self-sacrificing military discipline when they went into action, only to be, mown down. It is too easy and it is too dangerous.

My Lords, I have had the privilege of listening to a number of speeches with which I disagreed. I disagreed with the Lord Chief Justice of England and I would say to him, with respect, that he ought to have studied some of the statistics of other countries before coming to his provisional conclusions. I agree with him that the figures of crime teach nothing—I think that that is what he said, or something to that effect. Those of us who have spent much of our Parliamentary lives endeavouring to study and to derive information from figures have found that there is very little information to be derived; for every individual is different, every individual faces different conditions, every individual reacts in a certain way.

In terms of studying the figures for crime and without saying by any means that post hoc is propter hoc, I think it true to say that a great increase in violent crime in England took place under another Lord Chief Justice, one who was appointed by a Labour Government, who said, "I am going to put an end to violence. I am going to increase sentences." And he did! The figures are there. For almost every violent crime men went to penal servitude for four or five years, instead of two or three years' imprisonment—and it is in prison, of course, that the crime is plotted, prepared and planned.

My Lords, I propose to ask leave to say for one minute, or for two at the most, one thing which T think worth saying. Politicians are apt to see clouds breaking and the sun shining over distant hills at the most odd moments. But, as one of the gallant figures of Northern Ireland, who helped to carry 84 coffins of innocent victims to the grave, said in the House of Commons yesterday, there has not been an assassination by the IRA in Northern Ireland since the Birmingham bombs. At the time he spoke there had not been an explosion. I do not think that there has now. There is no question but that the horror of the Birmingham explosions in England had a widespread reaction. There is no question but that the decent Irish element want to say, "Let us have done with this. We can neither help nor sympathise with these people. We want them to go." The message to the two young Price sisters, asking them to call off their hunger strike, was another indication.

My Lords, things may have got out of hand. More than likely, the IRA are responsible for some of the crime they have not yet committed. It may be that this is the moment at which they would be glad to pull out on any reasonable terms. However much we may wish to say, "Never an armistice!"—people have always said that—if that is the price of peace in Northern Ireland, what right have we to place any obstacle in the way of an agreed and constructive peace that will preserve the independence of the Province? We cannot make statements of that kind. Let us seize every opportunity for peace.

My Lords, we hear a lot about the rule of law. It is only a week since a German citizen was cold-bloodedly murdered while a guest on a British ship of the air and, with the Foreign Office standing by, his murderers walked out of the plane and were conveyed back, we were told at their own request, to the rebel part of Palestine. That is force majeure. I do not criticise it. I cannot say what ought to have been done; but those who demand the rule of law should tell us what ought to have been done. By all means let us do our utmost to prevent crime. Let us never lose sight of the prospect of a great and happy solution which will save the kids of Northern Ireland from their future.

7.51 p.m.


My Lords, having listened with interest to the legal, moral and sometimes sentimental arguments put forward in this debate, I think that noble Lords may have forgotten one vital point; namely, the members of the public who suffer more from terrorism than we do. If one were to ask the public what it wanted, it would immediately want capital punishment back. There would be no flannelling around saying, "I think it is wrong, I think this, I think that." Terrorism is a terrible thing because it instils terror. It is not necessarily a question of bombs in pubs; it affects old ladies owning tobacconists shops and old gentlemen in the Commercial Road, and any thug terrorises. A great deal has been said about Northern Ireland and my sympathies are entirely with most of the noble Lords who have spoken on the subject: on the other hand, are we not perhaps—and in no way have I any sympathy with the Irish Republican Army—blaming the IRA for everything that happens in this country? If I disliked someone, I could throw a bomb in a pub and the IRA would be blamed. Therefore, should we not perhaps temper our judgments a little before bestowing blame where blame may not always be due?

My Lords, we have heard a great deal about martyrs. Are the Irish martyrs or are the people who have been killed martyrs? What about the victims in the Tower of London, what about the Chinese tourist at Euston? Surely, they are the martyrs. If we made more of the public being martyrs, the public would understand a little better. There is not a different type of murder. Murder is murder. It is most foul and it must be dealt with by death. Life imprisonment, as we have heard, means approximately 12 years. A terrorist or a murderer comes out of prison after 12 years and can commit murder once more. The police endeavour to do what they can, but the Press and television programmes glamourise murder and death. Take the programme in which children appeared laughing at the magistrate's court: if they had been dealt with a little more severely, perhaps they would not be laughing.

The general public is now complacent about murder: it has become used to it because nothing is being done about it. The public says: "Another person murdered today—let's turn over the page and read something else." If the public were asked—and it was suggested in another place yesterday that, if we must have a referendum on the Common Market, we could have a referendum on capital punishment—why should the public not be allowed to choose whether or not it wants the death penalty? I think that it is also an unfair burden on Members of both Houses to have to say, "We will kill" or "We will not kill." There must be a law for survival and not a law for disorder and death.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for the fact that I have not been in my seat for a large part of this debate, but I had an imperative previous engagement to help sing some carols, which may be a not unsuitable introduction to participation in such a debate. I am the more sorry that I did not have the opportunity of listening to the maiden speech of my ecclesiastical brother of Derby and my chief reason for standing now is so that I may be counted.

My Lords, it may be that I can bring to this debate one unusual and personal characteristic. Your Lordships will forgive me for the fact that this is a reminiscence. Fifty years ago, as a very young probationer in the Methodist Church, I was appointed as Methodist Chaplain to Pentonville Prison. Within a week, it was my responsibility to look after a man who was afterwards hanged. I was converted from any indifference to the issue of hanging to a firm and absolute conviction that it was wrong by the experience of being in that prison on the day when the life of the man in question was taken away. If your Lordships have not heard the clatter of the tin cups rattling across every doorway; if your Lordships have not heard—and "heard" is the right word—the macabre silence at the time when the drop is assumed to take place; if your Lordships have not realised the kind of moral pollution which seems to invest the whole of a prison, I have. Admittedly, it was in the first place a purely emotional reaction and very soon I had to ask myself what were the sufficient moral and circumstantial grounds upon which to maintain this opposition to capital punishment. I quickly found them in the faith of which I should have been better advised at the time and I have no doubt that right reverend Prelates in your Lordships' House have already today put forward the supremely Christian and moral grounds in the light of which capital punishment stands condemned.

My Lords, I find it impossible to understand the teaching of the New Testament unless I am committed to the way in which Our Lord expressed his own determination to use non-violence as the instrument of his Kingdom's coming and to refuse the use of the sword even when he was offered it by his friends at the time of his arrest. However, as all theologians ought to be aware, absolute ethics have sometimes to be modified in the light of what have come to be called "situational ethics"—a rather pompous phrase, which means that in certain circumstances an absolute ethic is subject to some kind of compromise. Therefore, added to the conviction that it is morally wrong to advocate and participate in what is the sin of capital punishment, I was forced, over a period of years during which I continued to be Chaplain at Pentonville Prison, to look at the causal, statistical evidential factors surrounding the application of capital punishment.

My Lords, I have no doubt that this has already been said, but it will bear repetition: capital punishment is not a special deterrent. Of course it is a deterrent, as, to a certain extent, is any prospect of unpleasantness, but it has been amply demonstrated in this House today that the only effective deterrent is the certainty of not getting away with it. Were people to he rationally induced in the processes which lead up to murder, there might be some argument that they would take things into logical consideration, but this is not so. It is cowardly, it is ineffective, it is dangerous and, as your Lordships will be well aware from the evidence which has been put before the House today, there is practically no difference in the rate of crimes likely to attract the death penalty whether capital punishment is abolished or retained. These are events in the calendar: they are irrefrangible and there has been practically no attempt in that part of the debate which I have heard to dispute them. The special relevance of this debate has to do with terrorism in a particular place at a particular time.

It would not be to your Lordships' comfort or interest if I were merely to rehearse a three-fold argument against the application of capital punishment to the present terrorist campaign—first, the taking of hostages; secondly, the creation of martyrs; and, thirdly, the employment of children. But above all these quite coercive arguments is the over-arching principle that there is no guarantee, or even likelihood, that the reapplication of capital punishment would in fact improve the situation. I think all the evidence goes to show that it would tend to make it worse. Therefore, what is morally wrong in this particular case, according to the principles of the faith I hold, turns out to be practically wrong as well.

However, there are certain aspects of the case to which I have no doubt the most reverend Primate has adverted, as I understood he was going to, that make the argument overwhelmingly important in the light of the various efforts now being made. There has recently been formed, as your Lordships will know, a new Peace Council for Northern Ireland. If I may look for a silver lining in a very dark cloud, this seems to me to offer more hope than similar efforts over the last few years have engendered, and those who are employed on this new venture will be immensely strengthened by the confidence that those who seek to help them are looking for kindlier, more just but less violent methods than those which would he immediately attracted by the reapplication of capital punishment.

I have listened with great attention to those who claim that at the moment public opinion would clamour for the reintroduction of capital punishment. I am not so sure: I want much greater evidence that this is so. What I do find, in the various excursions I make into popular and public controversy, is that there is an initial reaction to the horrors of bombing which provokes in those who have not stopped to think an immediate and almost "spinal column" reaction—certainly not a cerebral one—by saying, "The only thing to do with them is shoot them", and then they add a number of synonyms which I will not repeat in your Lordships' House but which nevertheless express their grave and intolerable hatred of something to which I would give complete and absolute assent. I find it abominable, and I have no sympathy for those who would pretend that this is some kind of activity which is to be condoned because it is done in the interests of some fanatical cause. I have very little use for those who draw a distinction between the murder of an individual and the murder of a State. I do not see how you murder a State, and I am quite sure that in effect murder is a personal thing in any case, whatever the objectives to which it may be directed.

Looking upon the general reaction of those who in the initial stages clamour for capital punishment, I have found that if they can get over this initial rage and when the paroxysm has subsided, there is a very much greater inclination to consider the types of arguments put before your Lordships this afternoon. But one of the things which is absent in so much of the argument against capital punishment is the reassurance of the effective measures of punishment—indeed, in some cases, of retribution, of restitution and of the reformation that can be used properly in their place. What is needed is a very much wider publication of the sort of process whereby these execrable crimes should be resisted, not in terms of "making the punishment fit the crime", but with the intent to make the punishment fit the criminal—for there is a wide difference between those two objectives.

What is the true answer to those who refuse to contemplate the re-establishment of capital punishment—which is something in which I am sure this House would concur—and what is necessary if this is to be much more than a negative attitude to a reprehensible form of punishment? We should examine much more clearly what are the forms of punishment which would be suitable and would express the horror of the community but still would express the hope and, indeed, include the process of restitution in many cases—though not, of course, to the persons murdered—and of the reformation of the prisoner himself. These are prospects that offer to those who are prepared to reconsider their initial hatred of the crimes to such an extent that they are prepared to see capital punishment as its only retribution.

In standing up to be counted, as one who began as a convert and has added to that conversion experience what I believe to be an understanding of the Christian faith and has thereafter settled this conviction upon a true basis of practical as well as theoretical assumptions, I would finish, if I may, with a quite personal reference supporting the proposition that I am not unique in this matter. In this regard my noble friend Lord Onslow was to take part in this debate. He felt he could not, but in conversation with him I elicited from him what was to be the principal proposition to which he would address himself. It was this: he, too, was converted not by, first of all, a rational assessment of the facts, but because he was walking with a friend in Cyprus just after a judicial hanging of an Eoka terrorist, and his friend was shot to death beside him. The shock and the realisation of the utter moral inconsequence, to say nothing of the moral turpitude of this act, had such a profound effect upon him that he would have said to your Lordships today exactly what I have said about the necessity to put out of mind and heart the reintroduction of this barbarous, cowardly and ineffective way of dealing with the sinner.

My Lords, I shall not delay you any longer, I am greatly comforted at the vote in another place yesterday, and certainly from what I have heard I have been impresesd by the quality of the debate today. I do not for one moment abate my hatred of violence in all its forms. I would conclude by saying that when we begin to frame just laws against a general backcloth of social justice, we shall have done infinitely more than the somewhat terrifying relapse into programmes of violence and savagery which have never succeeded and can only contaminate those who practise them and lower the standard of the community in which they are indulged.

8.8 p.m.


My Lords, one never has the privilege of listening to the noble Lord, Lord Soper, without being immensely impressed by what he has to say. Whatever views one may hold, whether in agreement or disagreement, the views of the noble Lord are always impressive and good to listen to. So far as I am concerned, tonight was no exception.

We have had debates on capital punishment before, usually relating to murder, and I have always been in favour of the retention of capital punishment for, whatever statistics may indicate—and I think it is agreed that they prove nothing—I have always felt it to be a deterrent. But I am bound to say that for the first time, certainly in my own lifetime, I have severe reservations about the wisdom of reintroducing capital punishment on this occasion. Certainly terrorism and killing by terrorism is a foul deed, and if one considers that capital punishment for murder is appropriate, then capital punishment for this form of murder would seem to be equally appropriate. But to me the reasoning would be different. I would support it not because it would be a deterrent in this instance, but because I believe it would express the justice of society. Those who deliberately bomb and set out to cause destruction and the death of innocent people, and who use fear and the fear of death as their weapons to achieve their illegal aims, I believe demand and deserve justice from society. But my reservation is that if capital punishment were reintroduced it might very well result in more bombings and more deaths and, as has been said, we might see the grim spectacle of children being used to perpetrate acts because they would be under the age at which capital punishment would operate. The prospect, both immediately before and after the sentence being carried out, of increased bombings, the taking of hostages and threatening them with murder, would lead one to believe the reintroduction of the death penalty might result certainly initially, in an increase in violence.

But then, if one carries that argument a little further, one is bound to conclude that society should only introduce such measures as would not stimulate the terrorist to further action; in other words, we should only introduce such measures as may be acceptable to the terrorists, because by the very nature of their profession they always have, and are bound to have this superior advantage of surprise and innovation. It might be concluded that we should not take such measures as will encourage them to use those inbuilt advantages. If we take that view, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone said in what I thought was an outstanding speech of logic, whether or not one agreed with him we have already conceded the argument. But we are at war with terrorism; with or without the death penalty, innocent people will be killed and maimed, and families will be stricken with grief. That is the nature and fruit of terrorism. I understand and accept the view which says this war must be won and that society is entitled to stand firm and say, "This we will not accept". Those who perpetrate these acts against individuals, against the law and against the State deliberately and with intent to kill, should pay the penalty.

That is certainly the view of many people throughout the country. While it may be more an empirical rather than an intellectual view, Parliament should be vigilant not to separate itself too far from the views of the country, because if Parliament is thought to be lacking in meeting this challenge, and if we arc going to see law and order continually defied, the danger is that a reaction may build up in others who will in turn take the law into their own hands and mete out their own form of justice in their own way. Such a prospect is terrifying.

I admit I remain unhappily balanced: while I believe the crime deserves the death penalty, and I would be prepared to see it reintroduced, I fear that it may result initially in an increase in violence. But, on the other hand, society has a right and a duty to take a stand, and Parliament has a right and a duty to recognise the force of public opinion. I was greatly persuaded by the quiet and logical speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone this afternoon. If it were to have come to a vote—which it will not on this occasion—I would come down marginally on the side of bringing hack the death penalty.

8.13 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of BIRMINGHAM

My Lords, I am glad to join in the words of praise for my brother Prelate the Bishop of Derby on his maiden speech. Those who know him were in no sense surprised by his eloquence. Apart from that, I join in this debate with the utmost reluctance because of a natural distaste which I know we all share for even contemplating such a change in the law which would bring about the death by execution of any fellow man or woman, however dreadful the crime that they had committed. As a man of peace, my Christian allegiance commits me to the path of reconciliation, though I do not find myself able to interpret that path exactly in the terms in which my reverend brother Lord Sorer has already done this evening with such charm. But I, like him, shrink from the thought that any other living soul should be brought to capital punishment, and not least because of a decision in which I was in any way involved; or that other persons should be charged with a horrible duty of carrying out a death sentence imposed by the will of Parliament.

My reluctance is no less because I speak as Bishop of a diocese which has so recently been the scene of violent action resulting in the death of 21 of its citizens—mostly young people—and the severe injury, the maiming and disfigurement of a much larger number. Inevitably this has aroused passionate feelings against those who could stoop to such indiscriminate and utterly indefensible action, however embittered the perpetrators might be by the real or supposed wrongs which led them to act ill that way. It is understandable that in some quarters in the city of Birmingham the cry for vengeance has been heard. And any support for the restoration of the death penalty, when the memory of what happened in two Bull Ring bars in Birmingham on the night of 21st November is still fresh, could easily seem to be no more than support for vengeance.

But this is an attitude from which I want to divorce myself completely, though I cannot forget the terrible injuries which the victims suffered—as I saw to some degree for myself—or the grief of the many families who lost those dear to them. It was in this context that I was moved to quote at the time those hallowed words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do", though I may have been at fault in echoing words which only the sinless victim of other men's wrongs could rightly utter. But I cannot think that any man or woman in their right mind could attempt to justify their actions when confronted with the terrible consequences of their wrong doing in terms of the suffering which they have brought about. I certainly cannot forget what I have seen. But I hope that the view I have reached about the punishment of such wrongdoers may not be coloured by any thought of vengeance or retaliation, or seem to suggest the ruthless application of the ancient principle of "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth". But I believe that in the sad catalogue of man's inhumanity to man there is a level of conduct which cannot be measured in terms of a predetermined prison sentence because it goes beyond the rightful reach which the community can extend in terms of compassionate understanding of other men's weaknesses and faults.

I am very conscious of the need to have in mind the effect which any decision about the restoration of capital punishment can have upon the course of events in Northern Ireland, whose people have had to live so long with the terrible consequences of violent action and terrorism. In Birmingham we have been greatly heartened by the messages and practical tokens of sympathy which have come from Church leaders, both Protestant and Catholic, and from other sections of the community, in Northern Ireland and the Republic. And I want to voice my admiration for the courageous stand of Dr. Dwyer, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, against those nominal members of his Church who have lent themselves to acts of violence in this country. We all want to see an end to the violence, a just and acceptable solution to the deep-rooted problems of Northern Ireland, and of the Irish people as a whole, and to do nothing which will impede this process or worsen the situation.

But it is out of this concern that I have come to the firm conclusion that murder for political ends is even less capable of excuse or defence than murder committed for any other reason, and demands more severe punishment because it is planned and executed in cold blood. I believe that for any individual or group of people deliberately to bring about the death by violence of others for the furtherance of their own ends is criminal, and cannot be mitigated by any claim on the part of the perpetrators that it arises from political circumstances. So I am led to conclude that those who act in this way place themselves outside the community and forfeit the right to live within the community.

I accept without question that the issue of diminished responsibility must be taken into account. It could well be that some who take violence into their own hands are mentally unbalanced, and require compassionate treatment rather than condemnation. Where this view is supported by expert testimony it must be duly weighed. Some may act under the dire threat of intimidation, and this also must be reckoned with where it can be proved or reasonably upheld. But such advice as I have been able to obtain—and I have sought it widely—suggests that however unbalanced men of violence may be in their political judgments, however overlaid their minds may be with all the mythology which attaches to folk-heroes and martyrs, they intend evil and they know full well what they intend. Where there is no mitigating factor, advanced or reduced, where murder is done deliberately to heighten the conflict or to use the weapon of fear to impose the will of a violent minority, I have come, very painfully and very reluctantly, to believe that those responsible must be faced with the dreadful consequence that they have forfeited the right to live within a society governed by the rule of law.

This might seem to point to the conclusion that I must inevitably side with those who want to see hanging restored as a deterrent against further acts of terrorist violence. However contradictory it may seem, I do not stand in that position. Tonight, indeed all through this afternoon and this evening, I have listened most carefully to the debate, and I have been persuaded, not least by those who have spoken with close personal knowledge of matters in Ireland today, that to take that line would do a great disservice to the hope of a peaceful settlement in that now unhappy land. However odd this might seem, I think all of us are greatly perplexed about where we stand in this issue. We are conscious of the great wrongs that have been done by those who have taken violence into their own hands. We are conscious of the wrongs that have been done in history and which have never been erased from the minds of so many of the people of Ireland. We are conscious of the wrongs that we may have done by our unwillingness to be involved in the total situation. In that consciousness I certainly feel that I am bound to side with those who believe that, given time, this situation can be improved; given any further incentive to violence it might well be set beyond reach of solution, in my life-time certainly.

My Lords, I make no apology for arriving at no conclusion, or for seeming to take no side, although I have stated what I believe to be reality of evil and the extent to which it places men outside the pale. I could wish that we lived in the days of Cain and Abel, and when the brand of Cain could be set upon such men and they could be told to depart into the wilderness. But this world is so small that it leaves no place for a wilderness in which men can come to repentance in exclusion from the community. And because there is no such wilderness, what are we to do? I am glad that the Home Secretary has said what he has about there being no amnesty for those who have been convicted of these most wicked crimes. I know how difficult it is to guarantee that his words will in fact be fulfilled. But I believe the sentences should be deterrent in their length—and others have said this already tonight. With all that, my Lords, I can only revert to my proper role as a Bishop and get on my knees more frequently than I have done in the past and pray for every aspect of this most vexing and terrible problem.

8.24 p.m.


My Lords, it gives me the greatest pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham. All of your Lordships will have been touched by his speech, for it was in his diocese of Birmingham that this frightful perpetration of terrorism took place only a few weeks ago. There is another reason which gives me great pleasure in following the right reverend Prelate. It is that his predecessor in office, Bishop Wilson, was a personal friend of mine. He was for four years incarcerated in a cell in Changi Gaol in Singapore, and I can say without any question that the late Bishop Wilson carried out expeditions of the greatest bravery, when he was tortured by the Gestapo, and was responsible for keeping many of us alive by his sustenance in the way of keeping the spirit going and by his contacts with outside Chinese, which enabled us to obtain the medicines and the wherewithal to live in those difficult days. So for those reasons, again, it gives me pleasure to follow the Bishop of Birmingham.

My Lords, when I considered what I could say tonight on the subject of terrorism and what should happen to terrorists, I was not in the least moved (I regret to say this, but it is the way I feel) as to whether or not terrorists should face capital punishment—though I feel that they should, and I will give my reasons later. I am far more deeply moved by the situation in our own country in the presence of terrorism. If I might for a moment refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said in his opening speech introducing his Motion, it was that he thought that in respect of executions for terrorism in India martyrs were created. As a former civil administrator in Malaya, where we had Communist terrorism, I would say that we executed terrorists and I did not find that that in any way created martyrs. The mass of the Chinese and the Malayan population hated and execrated terrorists, for it was the terrorists who preyed upon them, forcing them to give money to support a terrorist cause. Terrorists also preyed upon them to be supplied with food. The population were thankful enough to be rid of them. I simply do not believe that executions recruit martyrs.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, said in his speech, with which I so much agreed, we are at the present moment with our troops in Ireland killing terrorists. So there are "martyrs" there, if anybody wants them. I am sure that the British people would be thankful to be rid of terrorism. It is a traumatic experience to admire this country from overseas, as I and many of us did for over thirty years, to be upheld by its traditions in time of peace, when the death penalty was in force, and then to live in all the trouble that is occurring in this country at the present time. It is impossible for us to shut our eyes to the fact that terrorism is in operation on top of other perils which face society in Britain. Somewhere along the line the will of Parliament—and by that I mean Government—must prevail.

The issues are grave and glaring. The will of Parliament is under challenge. Successive Governments in Westminster, either Labour or Conservative, have bent over backwards to secure peace in Northern Ireland. There is no peace. There are ruthless men who want no peace. There are among all these distractions questions which worry the nation—the horrors of inflation; confrontation in industry. The word "confrontation" is so prostituted in the English language as to have no meaning. What is it, my Lords, but confrontation if you execute terrorists and they execute two hostages? Then again, if the Government stand firm to deny to others what they cannot give, this is confrontation. It is not confrontation to strike and force the Government to surrender.

As regards terrorism, in recent hours there has been a blatant attempt to weaken our will and the will of democracy still further. On Wednesday, when the elected Members of another place were debating the death penalty for convicted terrorists, our newspapers reported that the leader of the Provisional IRA would seize two of our soldiers for execution if Parliament decided to impose the death penalty for terrorism, and the same evening a terrorist bomb exploded in a club in Piccadilly. If the leader of the Provisional IRA hoped to stop the introduction of the death penalty for terrorism by what he did, it is my view that he must be well pleased by last night's vote in another place, which did just that. If he wished to disillusion millions of our countrymen by what happened he must be equally pleased. There is no doubt that millions of British people are distressed and deeply worried by what they see as the power of others to control events and the weakness (as they see it) of our Government, or a Government in this country of any complexion.

My Lords, I would go further. If we continue in our failure to govern we might as well give up for all the good that we can do. In that event we should be succeeded by a military Government, or somebody else who would see that we would go about our business in the way we were ordered to do. We will never be supported unless we manifest the will to surmount our difficulties, and that means getting on ton of terrorism itself and making it possible for people in the country to believe that in the end we shall win.

I believe in the death penalty for terrorists. To face the prospect of losing one's life is a deterrent, and it would deter some at least. At the present time, no matter for how long a terrorist may be imprisoned he believes that in due course there will be an amnesty and that this will set him free sooner or later, and he is probably right. Noble Lords and right reverend Prelates have referred to this fact, that imprisonment in these days is not sufficiently hard to be a deterrent to those who take other people's lives by terrorism. With that opinion I would wholly agree. Internment in Long Kesh must indeed be a luxurious way of living compared with the internment which I know from practical experience has been suffered by others in other climes. I happen to be a Government trustee of the Far East Prisoners of War and Internees Fund, a fund administered to help those who have suffered illness from internment in former years—and some of the suffering is considerable. The internment which we mete out to people who perpetrate crimes of this nature is altogether too soft, although I am not in any way implying that it should be as hard as we suffered. But we must devise some system of making the punishment fit the crime.

I have just referred to a speech made by the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, if I interpreted his speech correctly, said that while he felt he could not support the introduction of the death penalty for terrorism, nevertheless he did not feel that the penalties at present inflicted for terrorism were severe enough. I think we all welcome the presence of Dr. Coggan, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and hope that there may be many other occasions when he will come to this House and address us.

My Lords, I cannot help feeling that this debate is not the end of the story. You will combat terrorism when you stand firm and impose your will. You will get information when it is seen that it is your will that prevails, not the will of the terrorist. Only then will there be confidence. I believe firmly that part of that will at the present time must be the the introduction of capital punishment for terrorism, and as I have spoken tonight another bomb has been exploded in London.

8.36 p.m.


My Lords, I have to apologise for rather a wintry voice; I have a sore throat, which most people get at this time of the year. I will speak, I hope, well under the eight minutes which is my time. In the reign of George II Walpole went to Fielding, the magistrate, and asked what could be done about street murders with robbery because they were averaging five a night—rather a lot for the small city of London of those days. Fielding said, "Give me 500 guineas and I will stop it". Walpole gave Fielding 500 guineas and he spent the money on informers. I expect that many noble Lords, as I have myself, have wandered across the street to have a look at the old court of Judge Jeffreys working today, very tidy and clean. They would have noticed in that court that there is a very high rail in front of the public gallery. It is rather attractive, with signs on it. The seats in the public gallery are very low, so that when the public were seated they could not see the witnesses. That was rather important because the witnesses were all informers. Nor, if necessary, could they see the jury, but they certainly saw the judge and the prisoners who were led in and accused and went away. The result was that in two months street murders stopped altogether. That was the end of it, which is rather extraordinary. I do not say that it was a nice thing to do, but it was brushing up the streets and making them tidy for people who wanted to go home at night, rather tired, with money in their pockets.

The next thing that happened was that highwaymen came out, and they became rather popular figures. They camped about the roads holding people up, and committed quite a number of murders in their time. But they were rather gallant characters and the public were very fond of going up to Marble Arch, Tyburn Hill, and watching them hang. They made very good speeches which were printed and sold to people who had conic up to see them hang. It was a good amusement and a popular thing to do of a Sunday afternoon. Somebody, a lady, told George II, who was very keen to stop it, that if a play was put on that would stop it because people would see how terrible the highwaymen were. George II put up the money for the play, thinking that it would be a good thing to stop the highwaymen. The play was very popular—in fact it is popular today—and he did not realise that it was a skit on himself. All the characters were skits on characters at court. The play was popular, but whether or not it stopped highwaymen is doubtful.

My Lords, we come from that little introductory beginning to the subject of today. I think the name "the hanging Bill" is wrong—there are plenty of other ways in which people can be killed without hanging them. However. I think that they should come to an end. If the public will not stand them, and obviously the public will not stand them, then they should come to an end. There is an alternative, and I think that it is quite a Christian alternative. They should be castrated in hospital. It does not take very long. After they are castrated they will never fight or hurt anybody again. It is an extraordinary thing but that is the case. I remember once the castration of a boar which was very savage. We could not do anything with it. There were a lot of people around it and it charged us all. I tried to give it some grass and it flew at me. Somebody jumped on its hack, threw a bag over it, down it went, we all held on and it was castrated in a moment. After a bit it came up again and I fed it with oats out of my hand; it did not attempt to attack me. That incident impressed me very much at the time and since.

I know that this is not a popular thing to say, but it is an alternative because something has got to be done. If we do not do it the general public will take matters into their own hands and do something. Your Lordships will have noticed that the taxi drivers and the green badge men were splendid. They chased these men down the street last night, and if they could have caught them they would have "bashed them up". The British public are fed up with these people. My favourite speaker is the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, who is as Irish as one can find because his family were fairies who came out of a bog in Ireland; you cannot get any nearer to Ireland than that, Northern Ireland especially.

What the noble Lord said is perfectly true—that no sensible people would encourage the IRA to have collections against hanging. It would have to be done by sensible people and there would have to be enormous propaganda. There would need to be films showing the girls and the people who are in prison who are to be liquidated. They would be shown films of the people they kill and of mothers who take up their children with no legs or arms and say, "Look, this is my child. That is what you have done to it". Let them be shown everywhere. Let them see what they are like and let the prisoners see what is being done in Birmingham. It is absolutely disgraceful, and it will get worse if something is not done about it. Indeed, it is hound to get worse.

I know that many people have kindly thoughts about prisoners, but one must remember the terror created by these people. Not long ago there was a retired colonel who had been a crack rifle shot. He had won every kind of competition all over the place. He was living near Navan, which in those days was an unhealthy place in which to live. His wife went out to do some shopping and two or three IRA men crept in. The colonel must have put up a tremendous fight because the whole place was covered in blood, but finally they got him and they found the rifles. He had taken the bolts out of them, so they got him down and first burned out one eye with a cigarette and then burned out the other eye with a cigarette. However, he never told them where the bolts were which had been used to kill a great number of people. Finally, they realised that the police were coming so they put a plastic bag round his head, tied it tight and he died. The Guardian said they thought these men might have tied the bag rather tight; nothing else was mentioned.

My Lords, I have had eight minutes, so what shall I say at the end of my speech? I personally am not vindictive. I do not want to hang or to shoot people or to terrorise them; but I think we have reached a stage where we have got to do something, and I think it is a great shame that we have not been allowed to take this matter to the vote. I think that people like me, having always lived in the country, are very near to the public all the time. I think that we understand what the general public are like, and that we understand them better than the people down the corridor understand them. Thank you, my Lords, for listening to me.

8.45 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a great joy to listen to the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat, but it is hardly a joy to follow him and I do not propose to attempt to do so tonight any more than on the famous occasion when he pretended that he was a salmon swimming down a Scottish river. I do not possess sufficient anatomical knowledge to take him up on what he has said tonight, and I do not propose to make the attempt.

I hesitated whether to join in this discussion. I have not taken part in any of the Irish debates and I do not pretend to know very much about Ireland, either North or South, although I have a number of Irish friends for whom I have the highest regard, even though frequently I do not understand the way that their minds work. I am like my noble friend Lady Wootton in that respect. However, the question of capital punishment has been very much in my mind for something like 50 years, and I felt I should like to take part in this debate since it may be the last debate which we have on this subject in your Lordships' House.

I took a pretty active part in the campaign for the abolition of capital punishment. For quite a long period I was President of the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment and had the honour to wind up the debate on the first occasion when the abolition of capital punishment became a matter of practical politics. In the other House a clause was inserted in the Criminal Justice Bill 1948 suspending capital punishment for a period of 10 years. It took the country rather by surprise at that time and, indeed, it took the Government by surprise—also the House of Commons itself. However, when it reached this House the clause had a bad time and it was taken out by a very decisive majority of your Lordships. I think that was in June. The Lord Chancellor of the day asked me to wind up the debate and I felt honoured to do so. He said to me. "You have been in this campaign for a long time and I think that you ought to have the opportunity of making the final speech." If he had made it himself, I do not suppose we should have been beaten by quite such a large majority. It was something like 180 to 25. I am probably the only Member of the House who is here this afternoon who took part in that quite historic two-day debate, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me for saying that in the end I decided to take part tonight because I felt that having been a speaker in the first great debate on capital punishment as a practical issue in your Lordships' House I should speak again, however ineffectually, on the last occasion upon which the matter will be discussed.

My Lords, the Motion which was so splendidly moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt this afternoon is, as has been pointed out by a number of speakers, of a much more limited character, although the opportunity has been taken by quite a number of your Lordships to widen its scope. However, it seems clear from the Division last night in another place, and from the general flow of the speeches this afternoon, that capital punishment is pretty well a "dead duck"; and even on this much more limited issue, the issue of whether it should be brought in for the purpose of attempting to cope with the terrorist activities of the IRA and the Provisionals, it has hardly stood up to the devastating criticism which, from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, onwards, has been delivered against it throughout today's debate.

Therefore, I do not propose to say a great deal more on these lines, but what has struck me—it is a point which has hardly been mentioned so far—is that if we really wished to execute these terrorists the law would enable us to do so. Quite a number of speakers today have said—as I think is the case—that we are involved in a war. To levy war against the Queen in Her territory is treason. It is true that last night in the House of Commons at least one speaker said that this was not a war at all and that terrorism was not war. But in my view it is a rebellion which amounts to treason; it is an attempt to alter the Constitution of the country as it exists, by means of armed action such as throwing bombs, shooting with deadly weapons and by any other method which those who have organised this attempt on the country can devise. If that is not treason I find it difficult to know what is.

It may be that I am wrong about this, and I should be grateful if the Government spokesman would tell us whether the opinion of the law officers has been taken on this subject and, if so, what they have advised. There has been a curious absence of authoritative statements on this subject and although we have had speeches from a number of distinguished lawyers this afternoon—any one of whom would have given a much more valuable opinion that I can give—not one of them has taken the matter up. If I am right in this then there is no need to reintroduce capital punishment for this purpose at all. The law is there and it is not being used. Why is it not being used? I think that it is not being used because the Government feel that it would be the wrong policy to use it.

This war, in Northern Ireland at any rate, went on for several years while capital punishment was still in force, although in a modified way, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, has pointed out this afternoon. There was occasion after occasion when it could have been used if it had been the policy of the Government to use it. Eventually the Government indicated by getting it repealed that their policy was not to use it, and I think that was probably wise.

At this late hour I do not want to go into detail on all the various points which have been so well argued in this debate. I was enormously impressed by the introductory speech made a fortnight or so ago by my noble friend Lord Hunt on the Bill for tightening up the police arrangements in regard to terrorism. I thought what he said on that occasion about the deterrent effect of capital punishment was most convincingly put; and it has been put equally convincingly by the noble Lord again this afternoon, and by a substantial proportion of those who have taken part in this debate.

The effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent has always been questioned by those of us who have wished to abolish that punishment, and it has never been effectively argued by those who wish to retain it. Of course it is quite impossible to demonstrate beyond a peradventure one way or another, but obviously if it is not very effective against the ordinary murderer it will be much less effective, as has been pointed out by speaker after speaker this afternoon, when we are dealing with fanatical people who are quite ready to sacrifice their lives in trying to bring about the objective which they have in mind. I really do not think there is any need to push this point any further.

Let us suppose that we say that we have to put up with that and take the chance and reintroduce capital punishment, which I have already argued we do not need to do; then there appears one of the oher main points which the noble Lord. Lord Hunt, made, in that one is bringing in martyrdom. Martyrdom is a strange topic and it is no doubt true that the Irish are rather unduly addicted to martyrdom. My noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger was saying that this was a psychological problem and she was finding it difficult to understand the psychology of the Irish. She is not the first Englishwoman—or Englishman—who has had that difficulty. She said that it was a psychological problem as to why the Irish people behaved in this way—not throwing very much light on it.

It occurred to me that there is a tremendous element of risk. It is a kind of warfare and there is nothing that the Irish like more than warfare. There is not much warfare in the world at the moment; but there is a kind of war going on in Northern Ireland and a kind of war going on in England, and it has the splendid advantage that one can become a martyr. That probably has a good deal to do with what is going on. Of course the Irish have been waging this war against the Scottish settlers in Northern Ireland and against the English as a nation for a very long time; in fact, sporadically, right through the last century.

This is not the first occasion on which buildings have been blown up in England. The Fenians were quite good at it; they blew up a jail in Manchester and, so far as I remember, some of them were executed for deaths which occurred as a result of that explosion. The Fenians were not treated as rebels; they were really dealing with the social problem. They were trying to eliminate the evils of landlordism in Ireland. In a way I think they did quite a good job, because they brought it home to the English that the absentee landlord system in Ireland was an iniquitous system and the English Government took steps to improve the situation remarkably. The Irish Members who were at Westminster throughout that century played a very fine part. The present Irish idea that they won in 1916—again by force of arms—the freedom and self-government of Ireland is only one side of the coin.

The work of the Irish Home Rule Party at Westminster over the preceding half a century or more contributed to an enormous extent. If one looks back in history one finds that this has been going on for a long time. During that period—particularly in 1916, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill pointed out—they were able to produce a crop of martyrs who have had a very good innings ever since. I think that Lord Hunt pointed out that they are trying to do the same thing at the present time, and it would be an abysmal mistake to present them with more martyrs.

I was enormously impresesd by the figures which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, gave us about the decline of bombing outrages, shootings and all the other warlike acts which have been going on from one year to another. They are transferring their efforts in the IRA—more probably in the Provisionals—from Northern Ireland to England, because they feel they are on a very sticky wicket in Northern Ireland and the English have not been getting ready for them and are, perhaps, rather easier prey. But even in England they have not really had as much success as all that, and I think that to give them a shot in the arm, in the kind of way which the proposals of these measures would do, would be, just at this time when the tide is beginning to flow back, quite wrong. It has therefore given me great encouragement to witness the unquestioning rejection of this in the House of Commons last night and, judging from the speeches we have heard this afternoon, by your Lordships also. I hope we shall make that perfectly clear to the country, which I think will follow our lead.

9.2 p.m.


My Lords, although the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has to do with combating terrorism by capital punishment, I think a debate on the death penalty is overdue, quite regardless of the Irish question. I would most emphatically not he in favour of any legislation which had as its basis legislation against Irish terrorists, or terrorists pure and simple, because the arguments advanced in favour of not making martyrs have great weight. But I am in favour of reintroducing the death penalty for all premeditated killings, and I do not believe that an Irishman who under those circumstances kills somebody has much cause to regard himself as a martyr simply because, by the laws of the United Kingdom, he is then executed. I also think that this is the view that the British public are taking at the moment. The overwhelming opinion, as I understand it, which is either spoken or unspoken, is in favour of recognising the increase in bombings, killings and outrages, and there is a feeling of frustration that these are becoming the rule rather than the exception, and desire to see something done about it. But at the moment the death penalty is the only possible solution that seems to have occurred to people.

I have never understood why one should talk only about prison on the one hand, and execution on the other. I believe that there are graduations of corporal punishment which should be considered in between. There are those who, even now, are prepared to stand up and declare without a blush that the situation in the country today is no worse than it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago; or that if there has been a perceptible deterioration it has nothing whatever to do with the abolition of the death penalty. The evidence of their own eyes day after day, and the contents of the national Press and television, apparently leave these people entirely unmoved. I was encouraged that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Widgery, depended on the evidence of his own perception in these matters, and not on any kind of statistical evidence.

I was shaken by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, about the 97 witnesses and the 157 affidavits, all people who were suffering worse than we are here, and none of whom was apparently in favour of the reintroduction of the death penalty in Northern Ireland, until I recollected an earlier remark by the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, who said that if you wish to know what the Irish people think you find out what the English think and it will be the exact opposite. That was the only explanation I could give for this extraordinary phenomen.

The health of society or of a country can be judged by the firmness of its resolve and its capacity to act in accordance with principle, however unpleasant the immediate effects may be. It has been said that the immediate effects will be unpleasant, but as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, has said, the long-term effects may be an improvement. By this yardstick our country is not in a healthy state at the present time. It seems to me that on this most important issue many people are prepared to arrive at a decision on grounds of expediency. If they think that the reintroduction of the death penalty is likely to result in retaliation by the IRA, or any other group of persons, then that seems to them a sufficient reason for leaving things as they are. And there is another group, as I understand it, who appreciate the need for an effective deterrent against crimes of violence, but who shrink from any personal involvement in acts of retribution, and therefore feel morally unable to give their support to an effective policy.

It is not without significance that, at the very moment when on a national scale we are being too indulgent towards the criminal, on the more intimate scale of the family circle we are failing to control our own children properly. I do not believe that our present attitudes towards discipline and punishment arc in some way more enlightened, or more in accord with civilised values, than they were when the death penalty and corporal punishment were still available. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that in 1930 the Archbishop of Canterbury was the only one of the Bishops then present in your Lordships' House who voted against the death penalty, and he felt that an immense improvement had been made since then. But I would remind your Lordships that it is precisely since that time that the windows of Canterbury Cathedral have suffered their dramatic deterioration.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he thinks that the death penalty or corporal punishment would have prevented that?


My Lords, as I understand it, it is due to chemicals. I am only saying that I believe that we are becoming an effete generation. We lack the moral courage to do what is necessary, either in the family circle or in the country at large, in order to correct this weed growth of crime that is taking place in the country. What a harvest we have reaped as a result! I recently wrote to the papers and got a splendid letter back from a retired barrister, from which I should like to read a little because a fortiori, although it is written with regard to corporal punishment, it is equally applicable to capital punishment.

The letter said: I am a barrister and practised for some time on the Wales and Chester circuit. At one time, the calender at Assizes was entirely taken up with offences of robbery with violence in the South of Wales. At one summer Assizes on the first working day, the criminal judge said he wished to make an announcement which he hoped would be noted by everybody, particularly by the Press. This was that whenever he got a conviction of robbery with violence, he would, as long as he had the power, order flogging. He did so, and before the year was out, there was not a single case of robbery with violence in the calendar. That remained the case until the time I gave up practice. My family have been solicitors in South Wales for two generations. I discussed the question of flogging with my father. He said that when he was young garrotting was prevalent, but when flogging was made a compulsory sentence, this offence ceased to exist. Much stress is laid on the so-called barbarity of capital and corporal punishment, and people are persuaded to imagine that the further we progress along the road of civilisation, the more temperate and benign the punishment for crime will be. Let me say with all the emphasis of which I am capable that there is nothing edifying or civilised in a society which has punishments which bear no proper relation to the crime. A civilised society is one in which crime is at a minimum, and by that standard our own society falls a long way short of its predecessors.

My Lords, the present alternative of imprisonment does not seem to be an adequate substitute. The chances of apprehension by the police are felt to be worth taking if one can be sure that the death penalty does not lie at the end of it. The imagination of the criminal is not sufficiently strong to envisage the suffering and degradation of serving a long sentence. The remission system makes it uncertain how long the sentence will last, and the efficacy of the deterrent is correspondingly reduced. One suspects that only in a small minority of cases does the criminal come out a better person than he went in, and the whole system is fabulously expensive to the taxpayer. That seems to me to be relevant if one is to run a proper system. We must try to arrive at something that costs rather less to support the criminal than it does to support a student in one of our public schools.

Premature termination of human life is not of itself a tragedy, although we tend to regard it as though it were. My analogy is this. We are not like buns in an oven waiting for completion of the full baking period, before we pass as finished products into the next world. There is no question of arriving unexpectedly and in an unready state in either Heaven or Hell. If the criminal forfeits his life, the community by whose laws he stands condemned is not guilty of doing irreparable damage to his soul by hanging. The same applies to the murderer and his victims.

If there is an air crash or an accident in a factory or a car, it is not suggested that in some way a person's life is cut off at the scherzo, leaving the fourth movement unplayed. My Lords, the offence of the murderer is this. The criminal has robbed the victim of his most personal and precious asset, which is his life. In turn, by the laws of the community, he has to deliver up his own life in satisfaction for what he has done. In my view, this is in no sense vengeance by the community, but simply the inevitable consequence of a certain course of action on the part of the criminal. He has committed an act in the full knowledge of what the penalty will be, and I do not think that in those circumstances the community is guilty of any kind of moral crime in taking life.

If there is to be a general respect for the law, then there must be a proper balance between the nature of the offence and the nature of the punishment. We would not respect a law which imposed a death penalty for shoplifting, nor would we respect a law which imposed a fine of 10p for murder; the balance in both cases is totally out of alignment. And it is my contention that at present we are leaning in all our penal sanctions towards the second extreme and the inevitable consequence is that the law begins to be despised. It does not seem to measure up to the required standards of firmness and fairness which in our separate consciences we are all perfectly competent to judge. It is because I can envisage this balance that I deplore the concept of rewriting the rules in times of national emergency.

It seems to me that the Irish question does not materially change the situation one way or another. Anybody, regardless of race, who indulges in the deliberate killing of another without extenuating circumstances should, in my view, suffer the death penalty, and this should be the law both now and in normal times of peace. I am convinced that there is nothing so uncivilised as under-valuing the seriousness of crime. We live in an age of hijackings, bombings, muggings and physical violence of all sorts, and because of this there is every danger that our sensitivity to the enormity of these actions will be blunted to the point where we take them as a necessary concomitant of modern life. I say, therefore, that a measure of our advance towards civilisation, or retreat from it, depends upon our ability to view these matters seriously, and it seems to me that the more seriously we regard them the heavier the penalty will be.

9.16 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to detain your Lordships longer than necessary at this hour, but so far as I am aware no speaker tonight, with the exception of the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat, has indicated that any penal alternative exists for the sort of crime we have in mind other than the death penalty on the one hand and the status quo on the other. As a mere layman, I intend to suggest tentatively that there may be a third alternative, more satisfactory from a deterrent and retributive point of view, and, I should like to think, without the disadvantages of capital punishment.

First, I should like to take issue with those noble Lords who contend that capital punishment is no deterrent to terrorism, in particular the sort of terrorism we find in Northern Ireland. Shortly before capital punishment for murder was abolished in the Province, a man was sentenced to death for murdering a policeman who had stopped his car at a road block in order to search it. After conviction, he was reported to have said—and I paraphrase this, as I do not have the relevant cuttings—"I do not mind how many years I spend in prison, but whatever happens I do not want to die. Please do not hang me". Here is one man who was quite definitely deterred in no uncertain fashion by the prospect of imminent death. The man was, as it happened, a Protestant terrorist, but I have no reason to suppose that a Catholic terrorist would react any differently.

Although this is not relevant to terrorism, your Lordships will also remember that, in contrast to the Continent and North America where the police carry guns and accordingly criminals arm themselves as well, professional criminals in this country before the war and right up to the 1950s rarely, if ever, carried guns or other lethal weapons for fear of accidentally killing a policeman or a bank cashier, and so finding themselves liable to be "topped". Consequently violence, in the course of robbery with violence, was kept to a minimum.

I would certainly admit that in some cases willingness to be a martyr does transcend the fear of death. But common sense and one's knowledge of human nature would suggest that the proportion of terrorists who actively fear death must outnumber of the proportion that glory in the idea of martyrdom, particularly given that judicial executions are a very much less glamorous and a very much less pleasant way of dying than being shot in the heat of battle.

I concede that, bearing in mind the possibility of the taking of hostages and the like, the overall saving of innocent lives, were capital punishment to be reintroduced, might not be enormous. If it could be proved that reintroduction of the death penalty would save really large numbers of lives—would cut the murder rate in half, for instance—then I think it would be the absolute duty of Parliament to vote for its reintroduction, whatever the scruples of individual Members.

It is the duty of Parliament not to shirk from taking all necessary measures to protect the life and limb of the Queen's subjects. But if, as I had to conclude, reintroduction would save only relatively few lives on balance, say half a dozen a year in normal times and perhaps a dozen or so in the abnormal times in which we live now, the decision becomes much more complex.

Although I believe certain specific executions during the last thirty years to have been utterly wrong in themselves—notably that of Ruth Ellis, whose mind was deranged by a miscarriage before the murder was committed, and that of Derek Bentley—I have never thought it intrinsically immoral in theory for the State to take life for the more heinous examples of murder. It is when theory is put into practice that the difficulties start. The ideal answer is what one might call the Athenian solution—the cup of hemlock—but this presupposes a degree of co-operation from the condemned man that would not be so willingly forthcoming today as in the time of Socrates.

So one is driven to the inescapable realisation that one must compel quite large numbers of men, and occasionally women, prison warders, wardresses, governors, doctors, prison chaplains, and so on, to assist in a very unpleasant and gruesome task, which certainly one would never wish to participate in oneself. That is the main reason why I have always opposed the death penalty, provided that an alternative of adequate severity is available. Unfortunately, I do not think that this is the case at the moment.

So far as so-called life imprisonment is concerned, I would guess that perhaps 999 people out of a thousand—and this includes both the public at large and criminals, or potential criminals—regard it as a farce, and with some reason. In 1972 there were only 30 men who had been in prison for 12 years or longer. It is perfectly true that the trial judge has the right to recommend a minimum term of imprisonment, but this recommendation is not binding. Furthermore, it totally fails from the public relations point of view.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, I do not know whether the noble Lord has ever visited anybody who has been in prison for as long as 10 years. If he has, he would realise that this gentleman does not regard it as a farce. The idea that somebody who has been in prison for 10 years thinks it a farce, or if he gets out after 15 years laughs the whole thing off, is somewhat contrary to the facts.


My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Earl has just said.

The Earl of LONGFORD

Can I put the question to the noble Lord?


My Lords, the noble Earl may have seen on television the other night pictures of a man just released from an American prison who had served 66 years, and in fact he looked quite hale and hearty. Furthermore, if the noble Earl thinks that 10 years or 15 years maximum is adequate, then this surely means that men convicted of robbery with violence, attempted murder, a crime passionnel, or of an act of terrorism involving the deaths of 21 people, would all spend the same amount of time in prison, which in my opinion is patently unjust.

The Earl of LONGFORD

I did not say that.


My Lords, the judge's recommendation that a man should serve not less than 15 years in prison falls down from the public relations point of view because it bears no relation to normal sentencing policy. In the eyes of the public this sounds like a 15 year sentence, whereas it is in fact equivalent to 22½.

I should not like to see imprisonment literally for life. There must be light at the end of the tunnel, however long the tunnel may be, both on the grounds of humanity and more specifically to protect the prison staff, because if there is no possibility of remission then there is no disincentive to attacking and possibly fatally injuring warders. The right answer, I believe, is that instead of sentences of life imprisonment there should be substituted long determinate sentences of 40, 50 or 60 years, for the sort of mass murder we have in mind, subject to the usual one-third remission. Both the general public and the prospective criminal would then be better able to compare the sentences with those imposed for lesser crimes of violence. But I wonder whether these long sentences would be adequate in themselves for the sort of outrages that we all have in mind? I think not.

I was interested in the remarks of the most reverend Primate who gave it as his opinion that, while he opposed the death penalty, sentences for this kind of crime ought to be severe. I believe that in conjunction with long determinate sentences hard labour, which I believe was abolished in 1948, should possibly be reintroduced in qualified form—but not the old style of hard labour, such as breaking up stones, picking oakum and so on. Cutting down trees may be highly suitable punishment for a middle-aged Swedish motorist who is found to have too much alcohol in his bloodstream, but it is not suitable for the hardened thug whom we have in mind who, more often than not, makes an absolute fetish of physical fitness. Nor is the idea of working in a prison workshop to earn money to pay restitution to one's victim, adequate—not in the earlier years of the sentence, at any rate. It is too like a version of the punishment given to a young delinquent who is made to spend his Saturday afternoons painting an old lady's house. It is too soft an option.

What I am about to suggest is extremely unusual and will no doubt be greeted with derision. But I believe that the sort of imposition that would most deter people of this kind—realising what hard young men of 19, 20 and 21 are like—is that as their form of hard labour they should be required to write out the Sixth Commandment, or some suitable variation of it, such as, "I must not blow men and women to pieces in public houses", for up to perhaps 50,000 times for each victim of their atrocity. Well, I anticipated derision and I thought I should get it! But at the rate of 200 lines a day it would take eight months for one victim or 14½ years for 21 victims; so you can see that it is not so easy an option as it sounds.

Before this suggestion is dismissed out of hand as being totally alien to English law (which I agree it is, although this is not so in the United States, where it has been applied in a somewhat modified fashion) I would suggest it has six advantages over other forms of penology. First, it is a tedious, monotonous, grinding and therefore totally daunting, task for a young person. Second, there is no martyrdom involved. Nobody could complain that they were undergoing noble suffering of any sort. Third, it is humiliating, in so far as it has a schoolboy connotation, but not degrading; so that it would not preclude the possibility of eventual rehabilitation. Fourth, the communities from which the criminals spring could never claim that their "favourite sons"—if indeed they are favourite sons—are being persecuted. It is not in any way a cruel penance which they are being made to undergo. Fifth,—and this is important—many noble Lords have mentioned the fact that those guilty of this kind of terrorism believe firmly that they will be out of prison within three to four years, either as a result of a general amnesty or possibly as a result of a hijacking or an escape attempt of some kind. The worst that can happen to them, therefore, is to have to spend these three or four years in the comparative comfort and relative idleness of a normal prison sentence. This suggestion would at any rate ensure that these three or four years, if by any misfortune they spent as little time as that in prison, would be by no means comfortable and idle.

Last, but by no means least, is the question of public opinion. I have never been entirely convinced that the general public want the death penalty as such. What they are demanding is some sort of punishment which is really adequate to the crime: and this, I think, would capture the public imagination. Most people would be able to conceive the magnitude of the task involved—in conjunction with the longer-term sentences—and this, I think, would go a long way towards placating the public demand for retribution. My Lords, I do not think that the House of Commons vote last night is necessarily the last word on the subject of capital punishment, particularly if there is no let-up in the campaign of bombing and murder. Unless the present sentencing policy and the present prison conditions for people guilty of such bestial crimes are altered, not necessarily on the lines that I have suggested but perhaps in some other manner, into something which is not only rigorous in fact but, just as important, is seen to be more rigorous, then I believe that public clamour for the reintroduction of capital punishment for these outrages will, with justification, become overwhelming and the gulf between Parliament and people will widen to a dangerous degree.

9.32 p.m.


My Lords, I urge your Lordships to reject the suggestion that the reintroduction of capital punishment will not assist in the deterrence of terrorism. I fear that failure to do so will signify that we are prepared to see the end of the Parliamentary system, of which we are so justly proud and for which we are renowned throughout the world. This will happen because if we accept this suggestion we will have shown that we do not have the courage to combat those who wish to make us do their bidding by violence. We will have lacked the courage to reintroduce capital punishment for those who seek to destroy our way of life by acts of terrorism. While the lives of your Lordships and of all the men, women and children in this country are in jeopardy, the terrorist will know that his or her life is inviolate. The worst that can befall them is a long spell in prison, where they will be free to continue their work of destruction.

Many years ago, my Lords, I heard a story concerning a unit of the Indian Army which was forming the legation guard in Persia at the outbreak of the 1914 war. The senior Indian officer in charge of this unit was instructed to take the unit back to India. On his way he passed through a part of the country which was under the control of terrorism. The terrorist who was in charge of that district summoned this officer before him and demanded of him to know why he, the terrorist, should not kill this officer and all his men. The Indian officer drew himself up to his full height and said, "There is nothing I can do to stop you from killing me and my men, but before you do so I would warn you that I am a servant of the King Emperor, and while at this moment the King Emperor is busy fighting the Germans, when he has beaten them he will come and seek you out, and he will treat you as you treat me". It appears, my Lords, that if we accept this suggestion we arc not prepared to seek out the terrorists who wish to interfere with the Queen's peace and to destroy the Queen's subjects, and to deal with them in the manner in which they deal with us.

It appears that the reason for this reluctance is the fear of creating martyrs. If we do not have the courage to withstand the menace of martyrs, we ourselves are heading for martyrdom through our own weakness. Surely the safety of the life and limb of Her Majesty's subjects is worth a martyr or two; for only the very dedicated are prepared to make that sacrifice and they are few and far between when their own lives are at stake.

My Lords, a few years ago when I was involved in Civil Defence, along with others, I was shown a film, The War Game. Some of your Lordships may remember it. It dealt with a violent attack in all its horrors upon this country. After we had seen this film our padré reminded us that we were officers of the Queen, that it was our duty to show the world that we were not going to be deterred by such threats of violence, that whatever our attackers did to us we were fully prepared to do to them and that only by so doing would our attackers desist in their efforts. Surely we should show the world and these terrorists—IRA, PLA or whatever they are—that we have the courage to combat terrorism by all effective means including capital punishment. Let them touch us not with impunity.

9.37 p.m.


My Lords, when I volunteered to speak at the end of the debate, I did so remembering the people who came to complain to me, as Leader of the House or of the Opposition, about the difficulties of speaking at the end of a late debate. On this occasion I thought I would give myself the same experience; but I admit that I did so thinking that there was to be a vote. I am sorry that there was not a vote—and I am grateful for your Lordships being here in such numbers—because I believe that it would be possible to interpret clearly from the speeches today that, notwithstanding a dose of what may be called, "old Lords' style" speeches towards the end, the House would have confirmed its firm decision nearly five years ago today on a rather curious procedural Amendment from the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, that they were not prepared to continue even an experimental period. Finally, with a unanimous vote, the House agreed to the permanent abolition of the death penalty.

Because I have done a "private deal" with the Leader of the House as to the length of my speech in return for the length of his—I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who is on the same side as me will join in this self-denying ordinance—I should like to say something about the conduct of the debate. Not for the first time the Government have found themselves in a very difficult position; and they have my sympathy. This happened to me time and time again in the past when I was Leader. They have done the best they can. There is no use—and I say this particularly to those who come from another place—thinking that it is possible in this House (despite the extraordinary discipline under which we have or will have got through 35 speakers in the space of about five hours—something they have never managed in another place) to ensure that the vote will come on at the right time unless two days are set aside for the debate. This would be difficult to arrange at this time of the year. So my noble friends on the Front Bench have my sympathy.

I should like to make two comments on the procedure. I was a little surprised—I think it is important to have this on Record because I think we must guard our procedure—that yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said: …it is always in your Lordships' hands to divide, whether the debate has come to an end or not, should the majority of the House wish to do SO."—[OFFICTAL REPORT, Col. 646; 11 /12 /74.] I should like to put it on record that in theory one can do anything in your Lordships' House, but that in practice we are tightly bound by custom, and any noble Lord who has looked at the rule with regard to moving the closure of a debate knows that it is virtually impossible to do. It did happen on one occasion when the noble Lord who was sitting as Acting Chairman failed to read out the warning notice that the Lords deplored the closure, put it to the vote and caught the then Conservative Government Chief Whip rather too quickly. He failed to put in Tellers, or at any rate something went wrong, the closure was carried, but the debate went on despite that. A week later the Committee of Procedure met and recommended the vacating of the proceedings. I only wished to say that I should not like what to me is a piece of heresy from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—the idea that one can call a Division at any time—to pass unchallenged. I am not attacking anyone; I merely wanted to make sure that the Lords keep straight.


My Lords, I know the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is a zealous guardian of the procedure of the House and takes a keen interest in these matters. If my noble friend Lord Carrington was in error, I am sure he would not wish to mislead the House in any way and I will see that the noble Lord's remarks are passed on to my noble friend.


My Lords, it would have been nice if the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, had himself taken the opportunity to say that, but I will not prolong this discussion. We had another interesting piece of constitutional doctrine from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, who said that because another place had voted on a Motion—not on a Bill—in one direction, it would be undesirable for your Lordships to express a different opinion the following day. I hope that, as a good Conservative, he fully realises the implication of this new piece of constitutional doctrine, especially after the violent protest we had at the return of a disagreed Amendment from another place. I should not like to say that in all circumstances the House of Lords could not say something slightly different from the Commons, but I thought it was important to get both these matters on the Record.

Incidentally, may I say with regard to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham—and I think it is important to get this on the Record—that it is a little unfair of him to have blamed first my noble friend the Lord Chancellor and then my right honourable friend the Home Secretary about the statement volunteered by the Commisioner of Police. It was not sought, and the Home Secretary was clearly uncertain whether it was his duty to communicate it, but, having been asked by so many Tories to say what the Commissioner of Police thought, he did so and was then cursed in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, do not think that the noble Lord is going to restrict himself to his self-imposed time limit. He has already occupied six minutes of his speech in attacking my two noble friends.


My Lords, after all, the noble Lord promised to stick to eight minutes and went to nine and I thought that it was just worth while to get these small points in if only to enliven the occasion. All the arguments have been given in this debate and it is quite clear from the majority of the careful arguments, and particularly the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord O'Neill of the Maine and Lord Dunleath—who, as always, delivered a first-class speech and one of great courage—that, whatever anybody else feels about the death penalty on other occasions, your Lordships feel above all that this is an inappropriate occasion. Any noble Lord who is familiar with Irish history and has studied it carefully—and, incidentally, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that I acknowledge his knowledge and his interest—would know that it would be disastrous. Nor, for instance, has the noble Lord, Lord Denham, thought out the implications of his support—this problem of, "Do you execute young people, or do you have mass executions?" He said that you stick to the rule of 18, but we know that many terrorists are under 18. I believe it was the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Birmingham, who referred to moral and pragmatic grounds, and said that it would be wrong to reintroduce the death penalty in these circumstances. I acknowledge that on the last occasion when we debated this matter it was agreed on all sides that if such a situation arose, in new circumstances we might reconsider the introduction of the death penalty. New circumstances have now arisen. We have studied the situation and a clear view has been expressed, both in another place and also in your Lordships' House today, that there is no reason to return to this macabre and dangerous practice. I hope all your Lordships will agree with my hope that none of us ought to take up a more moral position than anyone else on this matter. I fully acknowledge and respect the sincerity of those who wish to see the return of capital punishment. Also having read the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Wrenbury, in The Times, I am a little hesitant about how far we go back into corporal punishment in this context.

But I would beg your Lordships to think very coolly about this. I really would reject the suggestion that the taxi drivers who showed courage in pursuing the gunmen were doing so with the intention of murdering them on the spot. There was somebody who was arrested as a result of a pursuit by the crowd in Birmingham, but there was no attempt made to lynch him. We know the dangers of a reaction but it is our duty, having debated these matters, to think clearly and come to a firm view. I am very glad that on this matter, which is not a Party matter, your Lordships have spoken with a good deal of firmness today.

9.48 p.m.


My Lords, we have all enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I do not accept everything he said in the early part of it, but in the substance of what he had to say in the more serious part that followed, I agree with his approach to the subject.

It is late. We have got through a large number of speeches in a remarkably short period of time, and I have nothing to say about the conduct of the debate or about the procedure which the Leader of the House decided upon, after consultation, so I understand, through the usual channels. What I should like to do as briefly, I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and others, at the end of this debate is to draw on my own experience both at the Home Office and at the Northern Ireland Office, in considering whether or not it would be wise in present circumstances to introduce the death penalty for persons who have been convicted of violent crimes of a terrorist character in which life has been lost as a result. In doing so, I ought to make it clear, in the same way as my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone did at the start of the debate, that although I am speaking from this Dispatch Box what I have to say represents only my own opinion and not necessarily the views of other noble Lords who sit on this side of the House.

As I have thought about this subject, as I have done a great deal over the last few months, my own approach to the issue—and I believe in some ways it is a new issue because the circumstances today are different from those in which this House and another place considered the potential abolition of the death penalty 10 or 15 years ago—has revolved around the answer to two questions. To me it comes down to that. The first question is as follows: If capital punishment were introduced as a penalty for the gravest terrorist crimes, would it be carried out in practice? Second, if it was carried out in practice, would it make further terrorist crimes more likely or less likely in the future?

I am not alone in this House in having been unfortunate enough to be on hand to see for myself, and see more than once the terrible consequences of terrorist bombings in Northern Ireland shortly after the event. The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, has had this experience; I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine has also had to undergo it in the past. It is a totally numbing experience—a nightmare suddenly turned to reality. There is literally nothing that can be said which does not sound trite or inadequate to those who have just lost a relative—sometimes a close one—a friend or a neighbour, or perhaps suffered personal injuries so horrifying that however young they will never live again as normal, able-bodied human beings. Others can count themselves more fortunate if they escape unharmed, leaving behind a burnt out or bombed out shell which was once, maybe just a few hours before, their home, their shop or place of work.

In Ulster over the past three years such events have become almost commonplace, and it is curious that continuous and extreme violence of this kind can evoke apathy and fatalism, as well as furious anger and resentment. You know only too well it goes on, but somehow you cannot believe it will ever happen to you. Perhaps it is an inbuilt defence mechanism which helps to guard human nature against despair that this should be so.

Now a new phase of the IRA campaign, which is a contemptible campaign and a brutal campaign, has extended to Britain, not, alas! for the first time. What is in the minds of men and organisations who resort to systematic and planned violence of this kind which they know can and does harm innocent passers-by as much as or more than those whom they choose to regard as legitimate targets, is exceptionally difficult to comprehend. My noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine, who speaks with special authority, already pointed out when he spoke earlier in the debate that the Irish mind does not work like the English mind. I say that to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who did not have the opportunity of listening to my noble friend's speech, although I am sure he will read it. It was a most notable contribution from a man who perhaps has had more to say on this subject—and we always listen to him carefully —than almost any other Member of your Lordships' House.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, since my name has been mentioned, perhaps I am entitled to say that I heard much of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine. I daresay I missed some of the best things, but I heard a great deal of it and I thought it was very good. Since the noble Lord has raised the question of the strange working of the Irish mind, would he agree that in this respect the Northern Ireland mind, Protestant and Catholic, and the Southern Irish mind work as one? This is another indication of the fact that in the end there can only be a United Ireland.


I would not accept that their minds work as one. I would go with the noble Earl so far as saying that they both work in a very different way from the English mind. But within the politics of Ireland, which he knows as well as I do are in no way to be compared with the politics of Britain, there are substantial differences. The point I was making—and I was drawing on the speech of my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine as an additional authority—is that in organisations like the IRA, however military the terminology, motives are invariably confused and the chain of command obscured by personal rivalries and inconsistencies.

As it happens, I spend part of each week in Birmingham at present and, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham who spoke earlier in the debate, I can well understand the widespread feelings of outrage and anxiety in the city following the recent bombings. The Birmingham Post, in a notably thoughtful leading article, has referred to what it described as "the presence of deep public wrath" at what has happened. As a result of the events in Birmingham, Guildford, London and elsewhere, there has been an upsurge of support—and we should do well to recognise this—for the death penalty to be imposed on political murderers. Politicians, particularly those who sit in the elected Chamber, ignore deep-felt feelings of this kind at their peril. Yet in another place yesterday it was a Birmingham Member of Parliament, and a well respected one, Mr. Brian Walden, who, in moving the Motion which was carried by a substantial majority, emphasised the necessity to consider not so much what is popular, but what is regarded as just and what is judged to be likely to lead to the greater safety of the public. The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, who spoke in our debate today—and I shared fully what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said in tribute to his courage; speaking as an elected Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly—made this same point.

The introduction of the death penalty for terrorists is an issue which clearly demanded urgent and grave public consideration both by the Government and by Parliament as a whole. To my mind this has now been done, with the result that once again, despite all the fashionable criticisms, we have seen Parliament, and both Houses of Parliament at that, acting as a national focus, concentrating and bringing together many different strains of opinion and different forms of pressure. Although on matters concerning public safety we should accept that the Government of the day have the ultimate responsibility to decide—and sometimes they must decide and act very quickly—Parliament can be, as it demonstrably has been on this occasion, capable of giving an unequivocal indication of the way in which it judges that public policy should move in a profoundly important area. So in that respect, perhaps, if in no other, we can take some comfort.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, mentioned public opinion in his speech. It is imperative to draw a distinction between the general state of public opinion to which I have just referred, much of which undoubtedly favours the hanging or shooting of terrorists who cause death by bombing, after the briefest possible proceedings before the courts, and the opinion that would develop if a man was convicted and was due to be executed. What would happen then? Reprisals? Who can say with any certainty? But at least it must be a possibility, and it would be a rash man to rule that possibility out. Would there be hostages? Would there be further acts of violence? Who can tell, my Lords? But of one thing we can be reasonably certain in the light of recent experience and in the light of history. Public opinion, so uniform on the general issue, would waver when faced with the facts of a particular case. Look at what has happened with the hijacking of aircraft and with the kidnapping of hostages by terrorists all over the world. In general, everyone asserts their determination to stand up to the demands made by the terrorists. But who does, when the time comes, and when the cost is seen in terms of the individuals involved? Only Israel—and Israel, we might note, does not have the death penalty for acts of terrorism. My Lords, to introduce the death penalty and then to find that we could not carry it out in the event, as was the case for nearly a decade in Northern Ireland, would indeed be a victory for the IRA.

In considering policies towards Ireland it is necessary to look back to the past. Several noble Lords who have spoken in the debate have referred to the Rising or the Rebellion, whichever word one chooses, of 1916. We might recall that it was essentially British public opinion—not de Valera's American citizenship or any other outside factor—expressed in Parliament and elsewhere which put a stop to further executions after fifteen or so of the leaders had been executed following the Easter Rising. However, it is incontrovertible that it was the shooting of the insurgent leaders, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and other noble Lords in the debate, which provided the impetus for public support behind what up till then had been regarded as little more than a fringe revolutionary movement. Compare this with the case mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath—and very appropriately so, I thought—of John Stevenson, known as Sean McStioffan, once Chief of Staff of the IRA but now forgotten and ineffective, not shot by anybody, after a period of imprisonment and a failed hunger strike. He is no hero to anybody, my Lords.

I do not want to exaggerate the martyr argument, but the capacity of the IRA and its sympathisers to make and maintain myths has not diminished over the years. The noble Lord, Lord Gridley, said in the debate that there are martyrs enough already if the IRA or those who support them want to find martyrs. There is something in that argument, but the making of an enduring hero-figure takes time. It is much harder to make a lasting martyr out of a gunman who is shot in an exchange of fire and buried a few days later.

If capital punishment were to be introduced as a penalty for terrorist crimes, I fear we should be falling into the trap which was described yesterday by Sir Leon Radzinowicz. We should be expecting penal policy to solve problems which are essentially political in their nature. In the words of Sir Leon Radzinowicz, as reported in the Guardian yesterday, to do so would be to leave the dangerous impression that the only thing which needs to be done is to put down the terrorist and then the political question will solve itself. History has shown that this is not so. My Lords, by way of conclusion, may I make one further comment. I have not referred to the moral aspects of this question because I believe that they can be argued, and argued properly, in more than one way. I do not regard, and never have regarded, retribution as little more than institutionalised revenge. There is a rational and respectable case to be made out for it and, speaking for myself, I might say that although I did not agree with the conclusions I thought the exposition which we heard at the start of the debate today by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone of the retributive element in punishment was one of the most powerfully argued that I have ever listened to.

Nor do I draw, my Lords, on attitudes which may have been taken in previous debates towards the retention or abolition of capital punishment for non-politically motivated murders, murders, that is, inflicted by one private individual on another, because I do not accept that that issue is central to our present debate. What we need to do now is to concentrate our attention single-mindedly on the realities of the perilous situation which is facing British society. Our responsibility in Parliament, as the responsibility of the Government as the executive arm, is first and last for the safety of the public. I do not believe that introducing the death penalty would in practice add in any way to the protection of the public. On the contrary, as I have argued, the indications are that the risks of further terrible incidents occurring in the future would be increased and the agony—the word used, and aptly used, by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury—would be prolonged. In short, it would only serve to make things worse and not better. It is for this reason that I support—and I do so fully and without reservation—the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in moving his Motion this afternoon.

10.6 p.m.


My Lords, may I express my own appreciation, in which I know all noble Lords will join, to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for undertaking to initiate this important debate this afternoon, for the quality of his speech and for setting a general example to all those who have taken part in our questioning and our debate on this important and very sensitive matter.

I know there are some who regret that we have no Division at the end of our debate; that we are denied the opportunity of having a conclusive decision on this matter. To some extent I share that view, but I often wonder whether we would achieve a debate of this character with a Division at the end. Certainly so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned we are conscious that this House will support the Government, as another place has done, in their decision that capital punishment is not a weapon to be used to deal with terrorism in this country. Those who advocate capital punishment must keep in mind what the IRA are seeking to achieve in Great Britain. First, it seeks to break the will of the British Government and the British people so that our forces and our authority shall be removed from Northern Ireland. Secondly, its long-term objective is the unification of Ireland, and thirdly, it seeks to exercise a dictatorship within a unified Ireland.

As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has said, the responsibility of the British Government is to protect British citizens—both in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain—and it is also to give support to the Security Forces in Northern Ireland and within Great Britain. I do not think that there is any question as to the determination of this Government—like the previous Administration—in either of these aims. The question is; would this reimposition of capital punishment make the task of the Security Forces in Great Britain more effective in dealing with terrorism?

The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has spoken of his responsibility when he was in the Home Office and also when he held responsibility for Northern Ireland. We also had last night the very brief, but most effective, intervention from the right honourable gentleman Mr. Whitelaw who held the heavy responsibility of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Both of them are very clear from their experience—and we share their view—that capital punishment would not be an effective method of dealing with terrorism in Northern Ireland, nor do we believe it would he an effective weapon in this country.

My Lords, what would the IRA wish to see in this Government and this Parliament? Like the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, I believe that they would wish to see capital punishment reimposed in this country, and limited to their field of operation. They are seeking to raise the temperature, to raise the stakes in Great Britain in order to break the will of the British Government and the British people. Certainly they would like their martyrs; and no one should underestimate the position of martyrs in Irish history, or even of martyrs of the present. I myself do not at all underestimate the importance that the IRA would attach to the possible execution of one of their own for the seizing of hostages, in order to break the will of a Home Secretary, of a Government and of a Parliament in order to get that person released.

So I agree with the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, that the bombs in London last night were there for one purpose, and one purpose only. The purpose was the strange belief that a British Parliament would react in that way. The House of Commons have taken a view, and I believe that we share that view. So far as the Government are concerned we are prepared to sustain to the hilt, for all time, the security forces in their pursuit of the terrorists.

My Lords, with regard to amnesty, this is a matter which I know has been at the back of the minds of several noble Lords. I will be frank. It was very much in my own mind when the news came through of the Birmingham atrocities. If I may say so to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, one of the difficulties, is how to define terrorism. Most of the terrorism legislation that I know of, and which for a period I worked under in Malaya, was not for murder but for the carrying of explosives and weapons. But I believe we need to look very carefully at any suggestion that the law could be changed. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, suggested that the law could be so changed as to make capital punishment feasible or possible in this light.

But in regard to the amnesty, I should like to repeat what the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary said last night, which was: No Home Secretary could bind his successor. But in my view—and I speak with full consideration here—there is no prospect of amnesties for those who have committed cold-blooded and indiscriminate murder or maiming in this country. I do not recognise political excuses for crimes of that order. Those who have received long sentences should, in my view, serve them, whatever political settlements there may be ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 11/12/74; c. 634.] My Lords, I cannot believe that any Home Secretary would have the support of Parliament in the granting of amnesties to those who committed the sort of atrocities which happened in Birmingham and Guildford.

So, my Lords, we have had this debate. I hope it will not be necessary for us to come back to discuss this issue again. But I would give the assurance to this House that in dealing with the terrorists we shall give the fullest support to the security forces in the seeking out of these people who have perpetrated such terrible deeds at places like Birmingham, Guildford and Woolwich. We hope, having achieved the end of terrorism in Great Britain, that we can see the end in Northern Ireland.

10.16 p.m.


My Lords, we have come to the end of a long debate, though not as long as any of us anticipated at the beginning, and the last thing any of your Lordships would wish me to do is to prolong it. It only remains for me to thank all your Lordships who have taken part and to express not my surprise, but my pleasure, that there should be a well-attended House at the end, as there was indeed at the beginning. In that sense, I feel that the House has supported my somewhat reluctant opening.

Listening to the speeches has left me with the impression, even more so than at the beginning, that if one takes account of those who have spoken—the numbers who have spoken against the reintroduction of capital punishment and those who would have it back are in the ratio of two to one—it remains a very finely balanced argument. In this respect, at any rate, I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. The arguments for restoring capital punishment have been sincerely and strongly and convincingly put, and I am not sorry that I weighted the argument strongly against it believing, as most noble Lords did, that I would be speaking to another Motion which would probably have required a Division. It has at least had the effect of widening the debate, and I think that every possible and relevant angle on this complex and difficult subject has been aired this evening.

In a way, the speeches that appealed to me most have been those from people who have genuinely found it most difficult to make up their minds. I might just mention the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Birmingham, whose speech impressed me very much, and the difficulty he had. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was another, and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, spoke from his own personal and close involvement in the problem. I envy in a way those few noble Lords who appeared to find the matter very straight forward and who find no difficulty; for their own peace of mind I envy them. But, my goodness, my Lords, I do not agree! At the end of this debate I stand where I stood at the beginning. I do not think the reintroduction of capital punishment in the context of terrorism at this time and in these circumstances is appropriate from any point of view. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.