HL Deb 24 May 1994 vol 555 cc607-8

2.58 p.m.

Lord Palmer asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have plans to reintroduce corporal punishment as a deterrent for those who commit crimes of violence and vandalism.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, we have no such plans.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that not altogether surprising answer, but does he not agree that if his Government did have such plans they would meet with widespread support throughout the country?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, that many people would like to see the return of corporal punishment. However, that does not remain part of the Government's policy simply because it would be contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the alarming and disappointing prospect of arming the police generally stems almost directly from the failure to administer proper punishment to thugs, bullies, muggers and the like? Does he agree that the practice in Arab countries, where the perpetrators of such offences as theft have their hand cut off, has succeeded remarkably well?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend suggests that we should use that kind of penalty in this country. However, I know that many people share the premise of his original question.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is some positive evidence that in this country at any rate corporal punishment may not be as effective a deterrent as is sometimes supposed? I am sure he will agree that when it was open to courts to impose lashes by the cat-o'-nine-tails for such offences as armed robbery, two separate studies showed that the subsequent criminal careers of a number of men who received that penalty were distinctly worse than the subsequent careers of a number of men convicted of precisely comparable offences who had not received that penalty.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it is always difficult to transpose the careers of one type of person with those of another, assuming that the first may have had a different punishment. I should have thought that many people would have found the punishment that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, mentions a certain deterrent, but statistics may show otherwise.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the whacking he received at Winchester improved his behaviour no end?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I have always wondered what it was that made me such a delightful person. I never ascribed it to that, but the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, is probably correct.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, if one allows for the fact that the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits corporal punishment—in-stitutionalised violence—on the ground that it is degrading, whom do the Government consider more degraded by corporal punishment? Is it the victim, the punisher or the accused? Some of them must be degraded to a considerable extent.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I believe that the most degraded person is the victim on whom the violence has been perpetrated in the first place.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, have not recent cases abroad served to show that, even under a Tory Government, we are living in a decent, humane society which pays much attention to punishment and the effects of punishment and reform? Does it not also serve to remind those who travel abroad and violate the laws of those countries that the punishments in those countries may be cruel and vicious and that if they break the laws they should not whine when those punishments are inflicted?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is absolutely correct. If people go abroad they subject themselves to the laws of the country they visit. If they offend the laws of that country they get what they receive and deserve it.