New Clause. — (Duration.)

Orders of the Day — Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th May 1965.

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This Act shall continue in force until the thirty-first day of July nineteen hundred and seventy, and shall then expire unless Parliament by affirmative resolutions of both Houses otherwise determines: and upon the expiration of this Act the law existing immediately prior to the passing of this Act shall, so far as it is repealed or amended by this Act, again operate as though this Act had not been passed, and the said repeals and amendments had not been enacted.—[Mr. H. Brooke.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.38 a.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The purpose of the new Clause is to ensure that after five years' trial—whatever Government are in power at the time and whoever may be the Home Secretary—the practical working of the Measure now before us will automatically come up for review by Parliament. I propose, in the Clause, that the operation of the Bill shall run until July, 1970, but that it should be capable of being prolonged beyond that date if both Houses by affirmative Resolution then think fit.

This is not a wrecking Amendment. I would rather call it a fulfilling Amendment, because it is designed to fulfil the belief of very large numbers of people that we should experiment with the abolition of the death penalty—approach it as an experiment—and then decide, in the light of practical experience of its working, whether we should make it permanent. I say at once that I personally hope that it can be made permanent. However, I am sure that it will lessen the fears which a great many people have about the Measure if we embody the new Clause so that its experimental character becomes an integral part of the Bill and is obvious on the face of it. I see no objection to taking this course.

No, I see one objection from those who take the extremist view about all this—the view which, I think, the Home Secretary takes; and in saying that I mean no disrespect to him. I refer to the extremist view that death as a penalty for murder is too bestial and barbarous for it ever to be allowed again. That is the extremist view; I feel sure that most of those who voted for the Second Reading of the Bill, on 21st December last, did so because they believe, as I believe, that there can be equally effective methods of deterring people from committing murder; that the decision, the awful decision, that a man should be put to death—the decision which I alone now in the House of Commons have had to take—is something which, in this modern world, we should not retain unless it is absolutely necessary for us to do so.

On Second Reading, I gave my reasons—they were reasons and not just speculation or wishful thinking—for believing that the death penalty is not that uniquely, powerful deterrent that it is commonly thought to be. If we can effectively protect the lives of possible victims of future possible murderers by some other means, then most people would, I hope, agree that we should do that. But no one can prove it either way. Only experience can prove which is right—which of those who take opposite sides in relation to this Bill. Only experience can prove it, and here and now we do not have that experience.

It is no argument to say that the working of the Homicide Act since 1957 has already proved these things, because that Act does not cover certain types of murder. The types of murder it does not cover are those which have been thought of as the greatest threat against law and order in the community; the greatest threat against the peace of the realm.

We cannot yet know what results complete abolition of the death penalty as proposed in the Bill will have. Surely, we ought not to seem to be legislating now for all time on the basis of what must he a priori arguments which only experience can test—

Photo of Sir Stephen McAdden Sir Stephen McAdden , Southend East

On a point of order, Dr. King. I hope that you will not think that I am raising this point out of a wish to delay our proceedings, but is it in order for us to continue the debate on this important Bill when not one sponsor of the Bill is present?

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

That is not a point of order. Perhaps, as a matter of courtesy, I might mention that I had hoped that the first hon. Member who replied from the Government benches would call attention to the fact. The sponsor of the Bill informed me two days ago that he has a long-standing engagement to speak on this very long topic in Canada to representatives of the Canadian Parliament and, as I say, I would have expected the first intervention from the Government benches when it comes to convey the hon. Member's apologies.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

Further to what you have said, Dr. King, may I point out that quite apart from the principal sponsor of the Bill—the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), for whose absence I understand there is a reason—there are at least 10 other sponsors of the Bill, whose names are on the back of the Bill, and not one of them is present, as far as I can see.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is now an experienced parliamentarian. He knows that that is not a point of order.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

I should like to put it on record that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silver. man), who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, has personally apologised to me for his inability to be present, and I certainly hope that no hon. Member will hold it against him that he is not here, in the circumstances. Of the other sponsors of the Bill, of course, I cannot speak.

I was about to say that both sides of the Committee and all those who take opposing views on the merits of the Bill—because we are not exactly divided by the position of the benches on which we sit—are anxious to save life. That is our purpose in taking the view that we take, for the Bill concerns both the lives of the victims and the lives of murderers. But the correctness of the different views that are being so sincerely and cogently expressed during the course of our proceedings on this Measure can only be decided by experiment and experience. That is my thesis this morning.

I know that it is argued that Parliament can always legislate afresh in the light of experience, and that, therefore, a Clause such as this is not really needed. I believe that argument is theoretical—let us look at the realities of it. A Government—whatever Government are in power—may not wish, or may not be able to find time for legislation. That certainly seems to have been the situation in this Session, because it was a private Member who brought forward this Bill. So the only review in the light of five years' experience might have to be through the introduction of another Private Member's Bill. A Private Member's Bill has many hazards to overcome—I think that the experience of this Bill in the last few months is sufficient evidence of that. Indeed, a Private Member's Bill may not get debated at all unless the Government, by deliberate act, afford time for it.

10.45 a.m.

This new Clause is designed to guarantee that Parliament will have time, and will carefully consider five years' hence whether five years' experience has endorsed the judgment of the supporters of this Bill or that of its opponents. This House of Commons is the traditional guardian of liberty. Liberty is a precious thing, but a still higher responsibility on all of us is to preserve life. What I am asking is that Parliament shall be required, after five years, to review the working of the Bill, and the working of the Bill will be literally a matter of life or death. I believe that all of us will be helped if we can look at this intensely difficult question—this is one of the occasions when "vital" is the fully justified word to use—this vital question in the light of five years' experience, and illuminated by it.

In most of our constituencies—we all know this by now—there is genuine, legitimate anxiety in the minds of a great many of the people who elected us about the possible working of the Bill—

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

It will diminish that anxiety, and our constituents will respect Parliament the more—and I believe that it will lead to greater unity of sympathy towards what Parliament is seeking to do in considering the Bill—if we adopt this new clause, and write in that the Measure is an experiment, a crucial experiment, which, in the first five years of its operation, deserves and requires Parliament's close and continuing watch.

Photo of Sir Rolf Williams Sir Rolf Williams , Exeter

On a point of order. The point of my rising, Dr. King, is to ask whether you would be prepared to accept a Motion to report Progress and ask leave to sit again. My reason is that since 10.30 yesterday morning 200 Members—I believe a number in excess of that figure—have been in the House of Commons on Standing Committees upstairs and since 2.30 yesterday afternoon the whole House was here and rose only at 6.39 this morning. It is obvious that vast numbers of Members have gone home to get changed, to have meals, and so on, and that many of them, no doubt, have not had time to return yet to the House.

It makes a nonsense of the Chamber if the Government are to allow the House of Commons to sit these enormously long hours as a punishment for the House deciding, for instance, that this Bill should be committed to a Committee of the whole House. I ask you, with great respect, Dr. King, whether you would be prepared to accept a Motion of this nature, and put it to the vote, so that we can see whether it would find favour amongst the whole Committee.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am quite interested from a personal point of view in the facts which he has stated, but I am not prepared to accept such a Motion.

Photo of Sir William Anstruther-Gray Sir William Anstruther-Gray , Berwickshire and East Lothian

The Committee will have listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) with great interest. Indeed, I cannot but join in the regret which has been expressed that none of the sponsors of the Bill have come here to do my right hon. Friend the courtesy of hearing what he had to say, because, as he so truly said, he is, in fact, among us all the one man who has had the awful responsibility of deciding the life or death of a convicted murderer.

I am in favour of the new Clause, because I want the House of Commons and the country in general to be given an opportunity of looking at the matter again in the light of experience. I am anxious that the Government of the day should be compelled to have this opportunity. My right hon. Friend described the difficulties confronting a private Member. I am sure that the only way to ensure that the Government will grasp the nettle, for nettle it is, is to make it compulsory that at the future date re-examination of this question should take place. My only regret is that we have under the Clause to wait for five years for that opportunity, because every week brings me fresh reason for wishing that we had not accorded the Bill a Second Reading.

The Home Secretary, who, no doubt, is to reply to the debate will know his responsibilities for the police. I do not think that he will resent my quoting to him views expressed at the Police Federation conference last week. I quote from The Times:The Police Federation conference today"— that was 20th May— unanimously voted against the abolition of the death penalty for the murder of a police officer while in the execution of his duty. There was no qualification there. That was unanimous. The Home Secretary is responsible for keeping the police in good heart. He knows how they feel.

Let me go on: The 1,100 delegates also rejected the view of Sir Frank Soskice, Home Secretary, who addressed them on Tuesday, that the stringent penalties contained in the Firearms Bill will provide an adequate alternative deterrent to hanging. The Home Secretary has argued that before the Committee, but it seems that the police are by no means satisfied that it will be an adequate deterrent. For that reason, the sooner the House gets an opportunity of reconsidering the matter the better. The new Clause promises us that opportunity only in five years' time, that is, a bridge towards getting some sort of agreement between those who are prepared to take the irrevocable step of abolishing hanging for all these remaining crimes and those who want, in the light of experience—experience is not a bad thing—to decide whether it should be final.

The Report went on to say that the conference felt very strongly that Parliament is flying in the teeth of public opinion. I myself think that that is so. I frequently discuss this matter and mention it in public speeches in my constituency, and my experience is that my view that we should not accept complete abolition meets with the approval of the majority of people in every walk of life. I think that that makes it all the more desirable that during these five years the country should appreciate that our tolerance to murderers is under trial and the country should take the opportunity at leisure of making up its mind how it will decide when in five years' time, if the Clause is accepted, that decision can be taken.

I appreciate the anxieties of the police. At the Police Federation conference the special worrying effect it has on the wives of policemen was referred to.

I take now a glaring headline from a newspaper from which I do not often quote. It is the Scottish Daily Express last month. Here it is: Potential Killers—says approved school head of … Teenage boys. Six boys stood in the dock of a Scottish court yesterday as the headmaster of an approved school said 'There are at least three potential murderers here today, and I feel they will endanger the public in future'. To make my point of the connection with the police with this five-year trial period, may I take a less emotional paper and describe to the Committee shortly what happened. I do not think that I will mention names, but I will certainly hand my documents to the Home Secretary. If any hon. Member would like to see the names, they are all written down. I do not think that too much publicity is desirable. I quote: 'There are at least three potential murderers here today,' said the headmaster— 'and they will endanger the public in future' … One of the youths was also charged with assaulting a police constable. The sheriff ordered that their names could be disclosed, but I personally do not propose to disclose them. What happened was that on the roadway leading to the railway station a 14-year old boy—his confederates were 15—assaulted a police constable and did strike him on the body and hands with a knife and did wound with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm.

What happened next? The youths, handcuffed in pairs and guarded by three police officers, joked and laughed while the Procurator Fiscal gave details of the charges. The constable had gone to the railway station in the morning and apprehended the boy, and while he was doing that the boy lunged at the constable with an open penknife but luckily only managed to penetrate the constable's tunic. This is the point of what I am saying—at the same time the boy shouted out: You—. You will not take me. I will kill you. You cannot hang me now. I cannot emphasise too strongly that it is not only policemen and their families who are concerned. There are others covered by the Bill. There are old ladies who do not want to be murdered by somebody who wants to steal money from them. While the country in general is aware that there are such youths and that these youths have "tumbled" to it that after the Bill has become law, if law it does become, they will not run any risk of hanging—while that feeling is rampant throughout the country—I think that the Committee makes a great mistake if we throw away the opportunity which my right hon. Friend has given us in the new Clause of at any rate giving a time for thought, a time to reverse a decision that may be proved to be foolish.

For that reason, I support the new Clause.

11.0 a.m.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

I, too, support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) has said. This is the first speech I have made in the proceedings on the Bill and, therefore, I can claim that I have done nothing to impede its passage. I voted for it on Second Reading, not so much because I tend towards being an abolitionist—I am certainly not an outright abolitionist—but because I think that the law is unsatisfactory as it stands and that it is regrettable that the opportunity has not been taken by the promoters of the Bill to tidy up various provisions in it, apart from the abolition of capital punishment.

I hope that it is appropriate to remind the Committee that in April, 1948, during the Report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill of that year, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) moved a new Clause suspending the death penalty for five years. Subsection (3) of it read as follows: This Section shall continue in force for a period of five years beginning with the passing of this and shall then expire …. In other words, it was a somewhat stronger measure than that proposed by my right hon. Friend, because his new Clause, by contrast, enables the Bill to be kept in force by affirmative resolutions of both Houses of Parliament at the end of five years. Otherwise, the two new Clauses are substantially the same. The same arguments can validly be used for or against both of them unless they have been altered by the passage of time, which does not seem to me to have happened.

In 1948, in a Parliament in which the Labour Party outnumbered the Opposition by two to one, the new Clause of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne was carried by 245 votes to 222, a majority of 23. It is rather interesting to note that those who supported it included, not only the hon. Member but the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) who closed the debate on that occasion, the present Leader of the House, the present Minister of State at the Home Office, the present Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, the present Attorney-General and other hon. Members who are still Members of Parliament, and, incidentally, myself.

It is interesting to reflect that the question of limiting the suspension of capital punishment to five years was scarcely discussed on that occasion. It was not mentioned in either the opening speech or the closing speech. I think that it was assumed both by abolitionists and retentionists that if we were to abolish the death penalty it would be sensible to limit it to five years, which, I believe, it obviously is.

I say that for two reasons. First, although what is called informed opinion has gone a long way towards being abolitionist, public opinion generally is still anxious about abolishing the death penalty. That anxiety would be considerably lessened if it were known for certain that Parliament would have to consider the matter again in the light of experience gained over a period of five years and that the matter would not be left to chance but that the Government of the day would have to find parliamentary time to take stock of the position which had arisen. That is my first reason, and I think that it is a very strong one.

My second reason is this. Nearly all the arguments for and against abolition and retention have turned on the question whether or not capital punishment is a deterrent. To my mind, nobody knows, or can know, with complete confidence whether it is a deterrent to murder or not, but a five-year experiment would come very near to deciding the matter, if not for all time, at any rate for the rest of the time of those of us in the Committee today.

For those two reasons, I say that my right hon. Friend's suggestion is reasonable. It is certainly put forward in a spirit of reasonableness. It is consistent with what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and others recommended in 1948. If any sponsor of the Bill were present in the Chamber—I still do not see one here—he would, I think, welcome my right hon. Friend's suggestion with open arms as an attempt partially to bridge the great gulf which divides abolitionists and retentionists. I hope that the Home Secretary, in so far as he is going to take any responsibility for expressing a view on this matter, as I trust he will, will accept the force of these arguments and give his blessing to the new Clause.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

I hope that I shall be permitted to begin by expressing, on behalf of the sponsors of the Bill, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), their apologies to the Chair and to the Committee for their inability to be here this morning.

Photo of Sir Stephen McAdden Sir Stephen McAdden , Southend East

I am sure that the Committee accepts the reason why the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) is not here, but is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, to my certain knowledge, three of the sponsors of the Bill have been within the precincts of the Chamber this morning and walked out again without listening to the argument?

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

If the hon. Gentleman would permit me, I was going on to say that the apology which I make, and for which I ask the Committee's acceptance, extends to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who is in a position similar to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne in being unable to be present in the Committee for reasons of public importance.

I am not deputed to speak on behalf of the other sponsors of the Bill, nor do I know where they are, although I have seen them in the Committee this morning. I hope that the Committee will accept me as a poor substitute, but, none the less, a substitute, deputed by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, to speak on behalf of the sponsors of the Bill on the new Clause. In particular, I hope that the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) will not regard it as in any way a discourtesy to him that those two sponsors, in particular, are unable to be present today.

I want to begin what I have to say about the new Clause by emphasising that certainly neither the sponsors nor myself regard it as a wrecking proposal. We agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Hampstead that it would be folly to say that we were certain about these matters, however deeply we might feel about them in our hearts. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we have to judge by experience, and we have to regard the Bill as an experiment, to a degree. All that I entirely accept.

Where I find myself parting company with the right hon. Gentleman is on the manner in which he proposes that this postponement should be carried out, both as to time and to the method of returning to the present law in the event of either House of Parliament, in five years' time, deciding not to pass the resolution referred to in the proposed Clause.

I believe that the time suggested is a great deal too short in an experiment of this kind for a future House of Commons to be sure that it is doing the right thing when it reconsiders the matter. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we are considering, and a future House of Commons will have to consider, whether the deterrent of capital punishment is unique, or whether there are others which are equally forceful and whether it is necessary, therefore, to go to the extreme of taking human life. I believe that a decision of this kind cannot properly or usefully be taken after a period of experiment as short as that proposed in the new Clause.

The range of figures of murder, whether murder in general or capital murder, varies very considerably from year to year. On Second Reading, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary gave certain percentage figures. He told the House that the percentage of capital murders in 1956 was 19·9, in 1960 it was 18·7, and in 1955 only 11·3. The Royal Commission on Capital Punishment surveyed the whole range of figures throughout the world over a period of time—in many cases at least 50 years and in others for far longer than that—in order to form its opinions.

I will mention one set of figures which emerged and which are to be found in the appendix to the Report of the Royal Commission. These figures related to the 10 years 1940–49 immediately before the Royal Commission met for the first time. We find that, in England, the number of murders in that period on average per million of population was 3·92, yet the lowest year, 1940, had a percentage of 2·94 and the highest, 1945, had a percentage of 5·11. In Scotland, the difference is even more striking, with an average of 2.72 per cent. murders per million. The lowest year, 1943, had 1·55 per cent. and the highest, 1945, had 4·66 per cent.—more than twice as many.

This shows that the variation from year to year is considerable, for it is dictated by all kinds of factors quite apart from the factor of what the deterrent of the day happens to be, and that to form a judgment from as short a period as five years can be extremely dangerous.

11.15 a.m.

Professor Sellin, who is one of the greatest authorities on matters relating to penology and punishment, gave his views to the Royal Commission on these matters. The Report of the Commission, on page 374, states that … the main reason for the restoration of capital punishment in his view was always the same; something happened which aroused popular feeling, probably quite irrationally, and the Legislature rushed into imposing the death penalty. The effect of recent events at any particular time inevitably creates prejudice, a prejudice which is enhanced by the way the Press may play up particular events. If, for example, on the one hand, we have a Ruth Ellis case, or a Timothy Evans case, that creates popular opinion in one direction; on the other, if we get a mail train robbery or a series of particularly brutal murders, that creates public pressure and opinion on the other side.

One point which the Royal Commission particularly made was that, after abolition, there is very often a tendency for the murder rate to rise for a short period, after which it usually settles down again. Indeed, in the view of the Royal Commission it virtually inevitably settles down again. I understand that the short time involved may be a few years, but that it varies from one area to another.

In addition to these matters, there is a very important factor which distinguishes the present time from the generality. A year or so ago the right hon. Member for Hampstead, as Home Secretary, appointed to membership of the Royal Commission on the Penal Policy a number of very distinguished people charged with the task of surveying that system, the concepts and purpose of punishment and of making recommendations which, no doubt, he hoped would have lasting effect upon our approach to the whole question of crime and punishment.

I very much applaud the right hon. Gentleman's wisdom in having set up that Royal Commission. Perhaps I should add, on a personal note, that I have been given the great privilege of being recently appointed to membership of the Commission and, although it would be quite wrong for me to anticipate any proposals that it may ultimately make, of one thing I am certain—that the Commission has thrown itself into the work of considering the whole of our penal system. It is taking a mass of advice and meeting a large number of people of every possible kind and I shall be most disappointed if it does not turn out that its recommendations provide the basis for whichever Government there may be at the time to make a radical reappraisal of our whole penal system.

The report of that Royal Commission will certainly be made within the period of five years laid down in the proposed Clause and I suggest that, in advance of such reappraisal and rethinking, it would be utterly wrong for this Committee to insert into the Bill provisions which may prejudge and prejudice the whole of that rethinking which a future House of Commons may be invited to undertake.

Photo of Mr Richard Glyn Mr Richard Glyn , North Dorset

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman explain to the Committee why he thinks that issues would be prejudged if this new Clause were introduced before this important Royal Commission on penology has reported, when he thinks that it is quite in order for the Bill to be introduced to abolish capital punishment before the Commission has reported?

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

Because the effect of the new Clause is to put the clock back to the Homicide Act, 1957; in other words, to return to the present system of capital punishment for certain murders—for one or two murders a year in practice over the last few years—and thereby to accept a concept which may he totally alien to the concepts and the purposes of the penal system which that Royal Commission may ultimately recommend.

I am certainly not alone in my view that the period of time is far too short. The Committee will recall that the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment sat under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers, who began as a retentionist but, after five years, completed his work on the Commission as an abolitionist. In that extremely cogent and well written little book of his, "A Life For A Life", Sir Ernest had this to say after dealing with the whole question of the effect of deterrents and the capital penalty: However much opinions may differ about the inferences to be drawn from the facts and arguments summarised in this chapter, there is one that seems almost beyond dispute. That is that we should not be able to form any reliable opinion about the usefulness of the death penalty as a deterrent by abolishing it experimentally for a period of five years, as was proposed in 1930, 1948 and 1955. On the contrary, we might be grievously misled. If the murder rate fell during that period, it would be unsafe to conclude that capital punishment had been of no special value as a deterrent; it would be even more unsafe to infer from a rise in the rate that a valuable deterrent had been removed. The murder rate depends on too many other factors. And if Archbishop Temple and Lord Buckmaster were right in believing that 'psychologically the effect of the State so respecting life as to refuse to take it would undoubtedly be greater than the effect of its so condemning murder as to take the life of the murderer', the time is much too short. Temple thought that this would take a generation or so". I commend to the Committee that view of a very distinguished chairman of a Royal Commission who had considered this matter, not as we have done during the passage of the Bill for a matter of months, but for five years.

Secondly, the method of carrying out the right hon. Gentleman's intentions is the wrong method, because what the new Clause seeks to do is to return to the position under the Homicide Act if the necessary Resolutions are not passed, that is to say, to return to the position when we have degrees of murder which the Royal Commission regarded as a chimerical quest for satisfactory degrees of murder.

On Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman himself in the most forceful and persuasive language expressed the objections to such a situation. I accept that he never liked the Homicide Act, even before he became Home Secretary. He went to the Home Office in 1962. On Second Reading he said: I … immediately asked for a report on the working of the Homicide Act, because one was aware of criticism; one was aware of anomalies in its working, and I was anxious to know whether it would be possible to improve the Act by any form of amendment that might be generally acceptable. …It produces anomalies at the sentencing stage. There can be no doubt of that. However sound the principles of the Act when they are set against the criterion of motive, nevertheless it results in the most heinous murders not being capable of attracting the death sentence whereas the law requires that the death sentence should be passed on others who have committed what is defined as capital murder, even though it would be almost universally felt that they had, in fact, been offences of a less grave kind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1964; Vol. 704, c. 906.] The right hon. Gentleman's criticism of that Act was a devastating criticism with which, I have no doubt, the great majority of the House agreed. Certainly his right hon. Friend for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), in his contribution to that debate, expressly said how strongly he agreed with that criticism.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

I do not withdraw anything I said on Second Reading about the Homicide Act. However, the hon. and learned Member will appreciate that there must be some provision, such as in this new Clause, to show what would happen if it were decided not to renew the Bill five years hence. We could not have a vacuum with no penalty; and, personally, I would rather go back to the Homicide Act than take the only other alternative, which would be to go back to death being the penalty for all murders. That is the reason why my new Clause is drafted as it is, and not because I wanted the Homicide Act for its own sake.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

I accept the dilemma that exists. That is precisely the difficulty of trying to incorporate into the Bill a proposal that something should happen if an affirmative Resolution of the House of Commons and the House of Lords is not passed in five years' time, at a time when we do not know what public opinion may be and do not know what people may be thinking in the light of such comparatively little additional experience as they will have had, and in the light of the report and recommendations of the Royal Commission on the penal system.

This is the only thing the right hon. Gentleman can do at this stage and that is his dilemma and that is the whole reason why I regard it as wrong to do it at this stage. He is forced by his dilemma into putting forward the new Clause which inevitably, if Parliament decides in its wisdom or lack of wisdom not to go on with the abolition of the death penalty, would result in having to return to the situation which the right hon. Gentleman himself deplores and regards as wrong.

Surely it is better, in those circumstances, that Parliament should have a completely free hand and that it should have regard to everything which will have happened in the meantime, in five or 10 years, or whatever the right time is to approach these matters again, not being tied and avoiding the dilemma of either having to return to that which the majority of hon. Members regard as anomalous or continuing with no capital punishment at all.

11.30 a.m.

Photo of Sir Kenneth Pickthorn Sir Kenneth Pickthorn , Carlton

Why does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that Parliament's hands would be tied? Parliament would be as free as it is now to legislate, if that is what it wanted to do. It is not possible for one Parliament to tie the hands of another, and to rest an argument upon the assumption that this would tie the hands of a later Parliament is really to mislead the Committee.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

That is precisely what the new Clause would do, tie the hands of a Parliament in five years. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course, it is open to Parliament, in five years, to bring in a completely fresh Bill which might wipe out the effect of the Homicide Act or which might, if Parliament thought fit, provide that there could be the death penalty for a wholly different class of murders from that contained in the Homicide Act. Parliament could do that whether this new Clause is adopted or not.

What I am saying is that the whole purpose of the new Clause is, as the right Gentleman said in opening the debate, so to tie Parliament's hand that it will be bound, in five years, to look at the matter again, but look at it, by virtue of the new Clause, within the straightjacket of either abolition, on the one side, or the Homicide Act, on the other. In his recent intervention, the right hon. Gentleman very eloquently made clear that that is his dilemma. It is a dilemma from which there is no escape. If it is said that Parliament ought to reconsider the whole matter in five years, then, subject to the question of time on which I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman by all means let Parliament reconsider the whole matter when the time is right, and let it review it in the light of experience of however many years be appropriate. But let its hands not be tied when it does so.

I agree entirely that there must be perpetual vigilance, that one must constantly be looking to see whether Parliament, in 1965, took the right course on this matter. None the less, I do not agree that, in doing that, it ought to proceed in such a way as to give to the public the impression that Parliament has doubts about the wisdom of what it has done. The House, by a majority of more than two to one, decided to abolish the death penalty. It did so in the knowledge that public opnion may well not have gone as far forward as to support that step. I believe that it was right to do so, none the less, because it is right that Parliament should be in advance of public opinion in matters of this kind, on which Parliament has the opportunity to give close consideration to matters which may often become the subject of prejudice in the popular Press and among the public generally.

In my view, if the impression were given to the public that, in passing this Measure, we were acting in a half-hearted way, constantly looking over our shoulders, not being quite sure whether it was the right thing or not, that would be the wrong impression with which to begin what the right hon. Gentleman has rightly described as a period of experiment. The House ought not to give that sort of impression to the public. It ought to give the impression that it is acting in the wholehearted way which the majority expressed on Second Reading.

For all those reasons, I invite the Committee not to accept the new Clause.

Photo of Mr William Deedes Mr William Deedes , Ashford

It is intended as no disparagement of the speech which the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) has just made if I begin by echoing the regrets already expressed on this side at the absence of the sponsors of the Bill today. While fully accepting the reasons which have been advanced by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), I must say that it does expose the deplorable dichotomy on the Government side in the passage of this Bill. It puts the Home Secretary in an intolerable position. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has done the Committee the courtesy of attending, I think, all our discussions, certainly since the Bill came to the Floor of the House, and at least some hon. Members on this side appreciate his attitude.

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

May I intervene at this point, first, to thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has just said and, second, to add that I must offer my apologies to the Committee because I shall have to go at 12 o'clock for another public engagement.

Photo of Mr William Deedes Mr William Deedes , Ashford

That is very charming of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and we acknowledge his courtesy.

I readily understand and appreciate the motives of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) in moving this new Clause, and I regard the arguments in favour of it put by my three right hon. Friends as exceedingly persuasive. I recognise its attractions for many hon. Members, but I have serious reservations about it, and I feel bound to state them before we end our discussion.

Although I am a retentionist, I take the view that the House of Commons ought now to make up its mind finally one way or the other. This argument has gone on for a long time, and, without going all the way with the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich in his concluding remarks about the doubts which society might cast on whether Parliament knew its own mind, which I do not share, I consider that society has a right now to know exactly where it stands on this matter, and we should put it beyond doubt.

Second, I cannot resist the feeling—I hope that it is without foundation—that this proposal might be seen not so much to offer safeguards as to mollify such opinion as remained hostile to abolition.

being designed, as it were, to soften the blow. This is quite legitimate provided that it means what we think it means and provided that it means what people outside who are deeply exercised in mind about it think it means.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) referred to the back history of the Bill, but I suggest that we might go a little further than that. The history of this proposal, not the Bill, goes back at least 30 years. It was the main recommendation of the ill-starred Select Committee which was appointed by the Government of 1929–30. I have read most of the proceedings of that Select Committee, and I cannot regard them as a very good precedent or, so to speak, a reliable witness for this proposal. The Select Committee made conditional recommendations, conditional upon Parliament deciding to retain the death penalty, and then itself recommended that the death penalty should be suspended for five years.

In this, it appeared to have been weighed very much by the experience of the American states at that time, a number of which had reimposed the death penalty after it had been removed. The American example has been referred to in our earlier proceedings and I shall not cite it again now, but, in terms of history, it is right to say that the Select Committee which made this proposal was hopelessly divided. The six Conservative Members walked out before the end of the proceedings and took no part in the recommendations. The Government of the day, a Labour Government, I believe, declined to give further consideration to the Select Committee's conclusions, and the Report remained a dead letter. This, therefore, was the not very distinguished background to this particular proposal.

The question we must ask ourselves is: what chances do we feel there are of Parliament using the opportunity afforded by the new Clause to restore hanging? Many hon. Members must know in their hearts that the chances of restoring the death penalty in five years' time are not strong.

We ought not to let people outside mislead themselves into thinking otherwise. Certainly Parliament would not do so if there were a marginal increase in capital murders—only if there were—which I hope there is not—a serious and dramatic increase. Yet this could occur at any time in the five-year period. It is possible that the proposal would mean that the necessary course of action would not be taken, because it might be said that Parliament was anticipating a decision which it would have to take in 1970. There would be a tendency to pre-commit the Executive both ways—to commit it to consider this again in 1970 and at the same time to inhibit it from taking action before that date. I doubt whether the Executive ought to he inhibited in that way.

Without the Clause there would be nothing to prevent Parliament from introducing the death penalty if the need arose. I will not contest what my right hon. Friend said about five years being a suitable period, but in the light of the 1957 Act and what has happened since then, do we feel that even since 1957 we have learned a great deal from what has occurred in those eight years? But I will not pursue the point.

Finally—my last point—we must recognise that even if we pass the Clause, to a great many abolitionists, and for very good reasons from their point of view, it would be regarded as a dead letter. Many abolitionists on both sides of the Committee—and they are on record as having said this—regard hanging as an abhorrent bestial penalty which society ought to do without. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead mentions it as an extremist view. To people like myself it is an extremist view, but I do not think that it is a minority view; it is very widely shared. From my experience among people to whom I have spoken, those who most want to abolish the death penalty are those who feel that it is a bestial way of punishing people. It cannot be any less bestial to them in five years' time than it is today. My right hon. Friend has been quite consistent in this; he spoke on Second Reading of the desirability of a trial of this kind, and we know where his mind is, but that is not the view of the majority of abolitionists.

We cannot play Hamlet over this; we must make up our minds. Parliament has not enhanced its reputation by the way in which this Measure has been handled and I do not think that the Clause—this device as it will be seen by some—at the conclusion of our proceedings will restore its dignity.

11.45 a.m.

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

May I intervene shortly? I have intimated by way of apology to the Committee that I have to attend another public engagement. I agree entirely with the speech of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and with that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) who, I think, put the matter so comprehensively that I have very little to add. Supposing, unhappily, it should turn out that it was a mistake to abolish the death sentence and that that became apparent in two years. Parliament ought then to be in a position to re-enact it. It might not become apparent until 10 years have passed. If Parliament, however, thought it necessary to change the law, to change the result which would be produced if the present Bill became law, one would immediately be face to face with the dilemma to which my hon. and learned Friend referred. It is a dilemma squarely faced by the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke).

Simply to go back to the 1957 Act would surely be the worst of all worlds. Should it turn out to be necessary, as experience showed in the coming years, to change the law which had resulted from the enactment of the Bill, we should have to approach the problem on a far more comprehensive basis. There has been universal condemnation of the 1957 Act. It would be quite unreasonable to take an arbitrary period of trial and to say that if the arbitrary period of trial suggested that we were wrong in doing what I hope we shall do, then we should go back to a situation which has been condemned by common consent from all parts of the House.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

One of the reasons which inspires many of us is that the Amendment would ensure that the Government of the day would positively have to reconsider the matter. This is underlined by the extraordinary way in which the Bill is being handled. It is a Private Member's Bill with Government time given to it on Wednesday mornings. Throughout this morning's discussion hon. Members on the Government Front Bench have greatly outnumbered those on the back benches opposite except for a few minutes.

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

The hon. Member said that the Government would have to reconsider the matter. It would have to do one of two things—either to leave the death penalty abolished or to go back to a situation which everybody condemns and which everybody regards as foolish—the 1957 Act. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that, and the terms of the Amendment admit it. I reads. and upon the expiration of this Act the law existing immediately prior to the passing of this Act shall, so far as it is repealed or amended by this Act, again operate as though this Act had not been passed and the said repeals and amendments had not been enacted. The hon. Member said today that one situation which he would not care to go back to is the complete restoration of the death penalty for all murders. He said that again today, and he was bound to say it. If Parliament thought that a mistake had been made, there would have to be a very far-reaching reconsideration of the whole question of the death penalty. It would be unwise to commit ourselves to what is a wholly unsatisfactory state of the law supposing that it becomes necessary to make a change.

Parliament is free to legislate at any time. Should it appear that we were wrong, we can always change it. I hope and believe that it will not appear that we are wrong. I am quite convinced that we are right. But if we are wrong Parliament can change the situation when necessary, and not necessarily in five years or ten years or two years or one year. It can do so when it is in the public interest to do so.

I hope that the Committee agrees that we ought to be able to make up our minds. This is not a new problem; it has been constantly on the consciousness of the nation and it has been advocated most keenly for years and years, not only in this century but in the last century. The problem is at least a hundred years old. We have had the advantage of the Royal Commission, which made a most extensive study. If the Royal Commission, taking all the evidence, could not come to a satisfactory and clear conclusion, then it is unlikely that we should be unable to come to a better conclusion at the end of five years from now. At the end of 25 years, perhaps at the end of 40 years, perhaps; but at the end of five years, as my hon. and learned Friend pointed out, we should be in just the same state of uncertainty as we are at the moment in so far as we are in a state of uncertainty.

In paragraphs 65 to 68 the Royal Commission—perhaps hon. Members will be kind enough to glance at them when they have time—says that certainly over a period of time we may get a temporary increase. As my hon. and learned Friend said, what is that period of time going to be? The Royal Commission said, I think, that it might be a few years. That would carry one part of the way over this experimental period, and our minds will be just as much unmade up then as they are now on the efficacy of capital punishment as a really effective deterrent.

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

Before the Home Secretary develops this argument—I refrained from interrupting till I felt satisfied that he had dealt with the point I wanted to ask him a question about—and before he goes any further, may I put this to him? He puts as his argument against this new Clause that, if it were passed, the Government in five years' time would have only two alternatives; they would either have to keep the new law or abolish that law and go back to the Act of 1957. If he really means that, and if he agrees with the argument of his hon. and learned Friend that no Parliament can tie the hands of another, can he then tell the Committee what there would he to prevent the House from adopting a third alternative in substituting a new and better punishment?

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

Nothing in the wide world. There is nothing in the wide world to stop the House from adopting a third alternative if we do not accept this new Clause. The House is completely free, whether we accept it or not, and therefore there is not the slightest point in the new Clause and that argument. It will still leave the House free and unfettered discretion to do what is necessary as circumstances develop. We think that this new Clause ought not to be accepted, because we think it is a useless proceeding. The House will have absolute power to try to present what alternative may be needed if a change is necessary. The alternative which the new Clause puts before the Committee is either to leave the situation as it is in five years or to go back to the 1957 Act. Why present it with that alternative when the House in any event has the completest and most absolute freedom to do what it thinks in five—or ten—years' time may be necessary to meet whatever the problem may be, and the form in which at that time it may present itself? I hope the Committee may feel—

Photo of Mr Joseph Hiley Mr Joseph Hiley , Pudsey

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. He has just referred to the Royal Commission, as did his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), as saying that after the passing of this Bill there would be an increase in murders.

Photo of Mr Joseph Hiley Mr Joseph Hiley , Pudsey

A temporary increase. However, the point is, does the Home Secretary propose to take any steps to protect the public during that period after the Bill is passed?

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

I should be grateful if hon. Members would look at the actual words which the Royal Commission used: There is some evidence that abolition may be followed for a short time by an increase in homicides and crimes of violence, and a fortiori it might be thought likely that a temporary increase of this kind would occur if capital punishment were abolished in a country where it was not previously in abeyance but was regularly applied in practice; but it would appear that, as soon as a country has become accustomed to the new form of the extreme penalty, abolition will not in the long run lead to an increase in crime. Those are the words which the Royal Commission used in paragraph 65. All that it says is that it might happen. It might not happen. If it does happen it will distort the advantage which may be derived in increasing our experience and knowledge by allowing this five-year period to elapse—

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

I am sorry but I cannot give way, because I have to go. I am very sorry that I do.

Photo of Mr Joseph Hiley Mr Joseph Hiley , Pudsey

Cold comfort for the relatives of those who are murdered.

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

Having listened to the arguments used in the last two speeches I really think we must make up our minds, and if it turns out that we are wrong we can always re-enact a new Measure when the time comes. Therefore, I very much hope that the Committee will decide not to accept this new Clause.

Photo of Mr Richard Glyn Mr Richard Glyn , North Dorset

I shall not detain the Committee long, but I feel that we are in very great difficulty here. We who are supporting this new Clause so well moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) are uncertain to whom we should address our arguments, because the debate this morning has been conducted for a considerable time not by those responsible for the Bill but by the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) on their behalf. Of course, he was entitled to do so, but at first we thought that he was also entitled to accept the new Clause if our arguments proved conclusive.

Then we thought that perhaps the Home Secretary would he able to act on behalf of the sponsors, but we now understand that he has to go—though we quite understand why he has to go. Since then one of the actual sponsors of the Bill came into the Committee, the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley), but he has gone again. Is he authorised or is the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich authorised to accept the new Clause if our arguments prove conclusive? We are entitled to an answer to this question. Who is authorised to accept our new Clause if our arguments prove conclusive? Are we to understand that the Socialist party meeting upstairs have already decided and that they will come down and—

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) came in, and he is about.

Photo of Mr Richard Glyn Mr Richard Glyn , North Dorset

He came in; he went out. What happens if he does not come back? Who is authorised to act for him? When the hon. Member comes back perhaps he will tell us. The sponsors have not actually been assisting in the Committee. It is an extraordinary position that, when we are debating, as we are this morning, the most important and indeed a crucial Amendment, there is nobody here to accept it on behalf of the sponsors of the Bill. Now we have not even the Home Secretary. There is an Under-Secretary here. Perhaps she will tell us.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

Reference was made by the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) to a letter sent to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) setting out the position. In that letter my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne made it clear, as, I think, the right hon. Member agreed, that he had asked me to take charge of the Bill in his absence. When, therefore, the question arises which the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn) is putting, I hope that the Committee will allow me to make a decision and to advise it one way or the other. So far, however, the hypothesis upon which the question was founded has not arisen.

Photo of Mr Richard Glyn Mr Richard Glyn , North Dorset

I really cannot accept this. We do not deny for one moment, and no one would fail to accept, the word of the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich, but we have now two sponsors of the Bill here. They have just come into the Committee. We are in a most unusual and unsatisfactory position.

One argument which I feel bound to stress and which has already arisen to some extent from what the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich has said, speaking on behalf of the chief sponsor of this Bill, is that apparently he was sent here to speak against the new Clause and told, I understand, not to accept it, however powerfully argued, and this despite the fact that we know that the chief sponsor, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman), himself proposed an almost identical Amendment to the Measure of 1948, and got it carried. I think that is worthy of comment.

Photo of Mr Richard Glyn Mr Richard Glyn , North Dorset

I cannot give way; time is getting on.

We believe that the public shares our anxiety in this, and believes that up to now the fact that the Executive have had power to execute people—very few have been executed lately—that we have had the ability, the power, to order execution in an extreme case, has kept the number of murders down. This is accepted by the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich and by the Home Secretary. I understand that they agree that if the Bill goes through there is likely to be an increase in the number of murders.

12 noon

We feel it is right, whether or not there be an increase, that Parliament should have a look at this again in five years' time. That is all this Clause says—have another look. It could be sooner; it could be later. We are not tying Parliament's hands in any way. We are simply saying that, in view of the tremendous public anxiety and the open admission from the hon. and learned Member who is authorised to speak on behalf of the sponsor, there might be an increase in the number of murders. In fact, HANSARD shows that he said rather more than that.

All we ask is that Parliament should look at this again in five years' time. There is no one present who is authorised to accept this Clause. We all know there is a powerful socialist group upstairs waiting for the division to vote against this Amendment. They have not heard our arguments. This position could not have been more unsatisfactory and the discourtesy of the sponsors of this important Measure to this Committee passes anything within my Parliamentary recollection.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Chigwell

On a point of order. Is it proper and correct that an hon. and learned Member of the House should take over the sponsorship of a Private Member's Bill when he is not a sponsor and when sponsors of the Bill are present in the Committee.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Nothing has happened that is out of order.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I have listened with great interest to the arguments on this Clause. I must apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) for not having been here to hear him move the Clause. As he will appreciate, I am a constituent of his and he will know what traffic conditions are like from here to Hampstead this morning. However, I did hear the argument by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton).

Like him, this is the first intervention I have made in this debate, although I have voted in all the Divisions. While I came with a reasonably open mind on the question, I must say that the arguments I have heard have not convinced me in favour of this Clause. I was very impressed with the argument put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). Although he is a retentionist, and I am an abolitionist, I agree that the time has come for a final making up of our mind.

I differ from my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead, with great diffidence, because of his unrivalled experience in this subject and because of the great contributions he has made to our discussion of this Bill. I cannot accept the assumption that all abolitionists on this side of the Committee agree with the Clause. Certainly, my opinion was never sought on that and I never expressed agreement with it.

The right hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. AnstrutherGray) gave as one reason why we should have a review of this in five years that public opinion was extremely anxious over this issue. Of course it is, but is it the function of this House to follow public opinion or to attempt to lead and shape public opinion? If we had been guided in the past by public opinion very few law reforms of any kind would ever have been enacted.

The second reason for a review put forward by my right hon. Friend was the great anxiety felt by the police on this occasion. I am glad to have an opportunity to pay a tribute to the police since everyone in the country owes the police a great debt and not the least in this House. From time to time disgraceful attacks are made upon the police, such as the recent attack by a female journalist, which I am delighted to have the opportunity to repudiate. It is true that the police feel that capital punishment is a protection. The fact that they feel this does not make it a protection. We have to look not so much at the feelings of people, but the rational arguments for or against capital punishment. One argument—

Photo of Mr Godfrey Lagden Mr Godfrey Lagden , Hornchurch

I can understand the hon. Member's disregard for public opinion. Many of his utterances, which we are used to, lead us to that understanding. But would he not accept, with regard to the police, that there are many members of the public who have a very considered opinion of them and have a great opportunity to approach this subject with even more authority than a great many Members in this House?

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I would certainly not disagree with the importance which my hon. Friend attaches to public opinion. I thought I had given due weight to that and had gone out of my way to be as studiously moderate as possible. I do not think that what I have said merited the personal asperity which I seem to detect in the tone of the hon. Member. Of course, I pay the greatest attention to public opinion and, of course, I have consulted my constituents on this matter. But, in the last resort, having paid proper attention to public opinion and to those who are in positions of authority such as the police, ultimately it is the duty of a Member of Parliament to make up his own mind on the issue before him.

Photo of Mr Godfrey Lagden Mr Godfrey Lagden , Hornchurch

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way a second time. It would be of great interest to the Committee if he could tell us what proportion of his constituents' opinion came after he had consulted them?

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I do not quite understand the question. Would the hon. Member elucidate?

Photo of Mr Godfrey Lagden Mr Godfrey Lagden , Hornchurch

The hon. Gentleman was telling us he had consulted his constituents on this matter and obtained their opinion. What I am asking is after that consultation was there a large percentage one way or the other, and does he know what it was?

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I did not make a statistical analysis of the replies as such, but there were differences of opinion amongst my constituents on this and they were certainly not all in favour of retention. Abolitionist opinions were expressed. I would agree with the hon. Gentleman that if one took a poll in the country I suppose that one would find a majority in favour.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Order. This discussion is getting rather wide. The hon. Gentleman must link all this with the new Clause in front of him.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

I am sorry, Dr. King. I was deflected from my argument. I was attracted by one argument put forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), though not by his constitutional arguments, because I quite agree with the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pick-thorn) that it is an accepted doctrine of our constitution that no Parliament can bind a successor; nor, indeed, can it bind itself. I was impressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that the period of five years is too short. The murder rate is, fortunately, very low, but it may be uneven in different years and within a five-year period it would be possible for a freak rise in the murder rate to give a totally misleading impression to public opinion, with the constant danger that public opinion, and perhaps this Committee also, would reach the wrong conclusion.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the Parliamentary programme is so crowded that when Parliament is bound to make a decision that the Measure will be brought before Parliament, but if there are reasons for deferring it, it would be deferred, and is not this the sort of matter which should be deferred?

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

The procedural point is not an impressive one one way or the other. I think that one can marshal arguments for and against it, and that they more or less cancel each other out. What is important is that after this long delay—and I was extremely impressed by the argument put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford—it is desirable that a final solution should be reached. Certainty is desirable on this point. After all, the House has discussed the matter, both upstairs and on the Floor, extremely carefully. For 100 years this debate has been going on in different parts of the country, and surely the time has now arrived to reach a final decision.

Hon. Members:


Photo of Sir Stephen McAdden Sir Stephen McAdden , Southend East

My hon. Friends call "Divide" as soon as I get to my feet, when I have been here since half-past ten, when most of them were not here. I am glad to see that they are joined in jocularity by hon. Members of the Liberal Party, none of whom was here at the beginning of our proceedings.

I want to get back to the discussion of the new Clause. I support it for a reason which has not been put forward by anybody else, and which, I hope, will find favour with my hon. Friends. If the Clause is adopted, the House will have to reconsider this legislation in five years' time. That will be a change, because we have not considered it very much so far.

If the Clause is accepted, it will ensure that five years from now a responsible House of Commons will get down to serious consideration of this important matter, which will be a very good thing even if it is five years too late. It will be a good thing if it is reconsidered especially if, as a result of passing this ill-considered Measure, there should tend to be an increase in the number of murders committed in the country.

I want to add my voice to those who have protested about the contemptuous manner in which the sponsors of the Bill have sought to treat the Committee. I accept the excuse for the absence of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman). I accept the excuse, which has not been particularised, but which I am sure is genuine, for the absence of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). But the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) was here at half-past ten. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was here at half-past ten. The other sponsors of the Bill, whom I have noticed round the House, came into the Chamber when a Count was called, but have since disappeared. They wander back round about noon, knowing that, sooner or later, someone will move the Closure which, it is hoped, will be accepted by the Chair.

Without any serious discussion, or any serious argument, the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) has been put up as long-stop. He spoke for nearly half an hour without dealing with the serious arguments advanced in support of the new Clause. I think that the Committee has been treated in a disgraceful way by the sponsors of the Bill, and, if for no other reason, I hope that those who feel strongly about the need for a serious and earnest consideration of this Measure will support the new Clause, not necessarily because it is good in itself.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford that a lot could be said in criticism of it. There is a good deal to be said for the argument that we should make up our minds now, but we should not have closed our minds before the Bill came before the Committee, and I resent the way in which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley), and the right hon. Member for Easington, have seen fit to treat this matter, and the way in which the whole Committee stage proceedings have been bulldozed through the House on Wednesday mornings.

Photo of Mr Humphrey Berkeley Mr Humphrey Berkeley , Lancaster

My hon. Friend has accused me of contemptuous behaviour. He seemed to imply that I was in some measure responsible for bull-dozing the Bill through on Wednesday mornings on the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend ought to be aware that I spoke and voted against the Bill being taken on the Floor of the House on Wednesday mornings. I think that he ought to leave me out of his strictures.

Photo of Sir Stephen McAdden Sir Stephen McAdden , Southend East

With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not leave him out of my strictures at all. I was not referring to his attitude in bulldozing the Measure through the Committee stage. I was referring to the fact that his name appears as a sponsor of the Bill, but he has not heard the argument, except during the last 15 minutes. The same comment applies to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale.

I urge on my hon. Friends the importance of supporting the Clause, for the reason which I advanced, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was not listening. If the new Clause were accepted, it would ensure that in five years' time a Parliament—I hope one with a greater sense of responsibility than the present one—would have an opportunity of looking at this Measure again. The Committee stage of the Bill has in some sense been bulldozed through by meeting on Wednesday mornings. We know that Wednesday morning was selected because that happened to be the day on which it was reasonably certain that the majority of the party opposite would be here. That is the only reason why we have met on Wednesday mornings. Nobody suggested that we should meet on Monday mornings. That would have been very convenient for me, but not for others. Wednesday was a convenient day.

12.15 p.m.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Order. This is getting a little wide of the new Clause.

Photo of Sir Stephen McAdden Sir Stephen McAdden , Southend East

I am sorry, Dr. King. I am desperately anxious to keep within order, but surely I am right in drawing attention to the relevance of reviewing this matter in five years' time by saying that it has not been properly considered so far, and, in so far as I attempt to relate it to that, I would have thought that I was within the narrow limits of order. I would not, of course, wish to defy your Ruling.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

If the hon. Gentleman studies my Ruling tomorrow, he will see the exact moment when he went out of order.

Photo of Sir Stephen McAdden Sir Stephen McAdden , Southend East

I was provoked, Dr. King. I shall seek to keep myself in order.

The arrangements for the Bill to be discussed in Committee have been such as to ensure that the Measure has not been fully discussed. We have had a handful of Members seriously attempting to consider it. The remaining Members have not attended the Committee, and have not heard the arguments, but, like the sponsors of the Bill, they have come in when a Division has been called, and have exercised their right to vote without having heard a word of the arguments in favour of the Amendments.

It is because the Amendments have not been properly considered, and because the new Clause has not had any serious consideration by this Committee, that I urge my hon. Friends to go into the Lobby to vote for it, because its acceptance will ensure that a Parliament in five years' time will have a chance to behave more responsibly than the one which we have at the present time.

Photo of Mr Peter Bessell Mr Peter Bessell , Bodmin

I think that this is perhaps the most important of all the proposals which have been put before the Committee, and I shall not delay the Committee for long, because there is only one specific point to which I wish to address my remarks.

The purpose of the new Clause is to make certain that this matter is considered again five years from now, by which time there will have been one, if not more than one, General Election. I believe that this is the crux of the issue, because we know that the Bill, which was introduced as a Private Member's Bill at the beginning of this Parliament, was brought in with the support of the Government. But the fact remains that the Government as a party, electioneering during the General Election, did not make the abolition of capital punishment a point of their policy or election programme. Nor, for that matter, did the Liberal Party.

It has, therefore, come as a real shock to many people, who may be quite wrong in their judgment, but who are, nevertheless, very disturbed, that so soon after taking office the Government have given time to a Private Member's Bill on this issue of which the electorate had no fair and just warning. This being the case, it would be an act of common honesty and courage on the part of the Government if they were to accept the Clause, in the knowledge that all three parties would be compelled to confront the electorate at the next General Election with the issue of capital punishment as a live issue, and we should have to declare our position unequivocally before the voters. That is not an unreasonable request for the electorate to make.

It is for that reason that I believe that this is such an important Clause. I hope that instead of the prejudiced attitude which we have seen so often throughout the long series of debates in Committee, from both absolute abolitionists and absolute retentionists, we may for once see a meeting of the ways, so that common sense in this matter will prevail. Not only would that ease the minds of the general public; not only would it fulfil the demands of the Police Federation and others; it would show a new honesty in our political approach which would be refreshing—but an honesty which the country is entitled to receive.

Photo of Mr Humphrey Berkeley Mr Humphrey Berkeley , Lancaster

I had not intended to speak, but I was the victim of such an intemperate assault a few moments ago that I feel obliged to say a few words. First, I want to make it quite clear that I have spent some time in the Chamber this morning. I have heard a number of speeches—none of them more deplorable than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden).

It was a deplorable speech for one reason, if for no other. He assumed that I had come here with my mind made up in order to bulldoze the Committee. In fact, I came here undecided. In many ways I found the terms of the new Clause appealing and—although my hon. Friend may not have noticed it—I have spent some time listening to the arguments and genuinely trying to assess what should be the correct attitude of somebody who is an abolitionist, as I am.

Having heard speeches from both sides of the Committee I recognise that I am pulled in both directions. I have decided to support the Clause, because although I believe that the case for abolition is an overwhelming one and that the next five years will show that there has been no perceptible increase in the murder rate, I also believe that Parliament should have an opportunity of considering, in five years' time, what has been the effect of this Measure.

I would tell my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East that before he makes speeches which are more suitable for Hyde Park he should try to ascertain in advance what are the views of those whom he chooses to attack.

Photo of Sir Stephen McAdden Sir Stephen McAdden , Southend East

I would point out that what I attempted to do in my speech was not to accuse my hon. Friend of attempting to bulldoze the Bill through. I said that he was a sponsor of the Bill, and that as a sponsor he should be here. If he objects to that, and regards it as intemperate, I am sorry. He will learn as he grows up.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

Division No. 134.]AYES[12.24 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)Gammans, LadyNoble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Amery, Rt. Hn. JulianGibson-Watt, DavidNugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard
Anstruther-Gray, Rt. Hn. Sir W.Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Astor, JohnGlover, Sir DouglasOrr-Ewing, Sir lan
Awdry, DanielGodber, Rt. Hn. J. B.Osborn, John (Hallam)
Baker, W. H. K.Goodhew, VictorPage, John (Harrow, W.)
Batsford, BrianGower, RaymondPearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)Grant, AnthonyPeyton, John
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)Pickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth
Berkeley, HumphryHall, John (Wycombe)Pike, Miss Mervyn
Berry, Hn. AnthonyHamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)Pitt, Dame Edith
Bessell, PeterHarris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)Price, David (Eastleigh)
Biffen, JohnHarris, Reader (Heston)Prior, J. M. L.
Biggs-Davison, JohnHarrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)Pym, Francis
Blaker, PeterHarvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Bossom, Hn. CliveHarvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin
Box, DonaldHarvie Anderson, MissRidley, Hn. Nicholas
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.Hawkins, PaulRidsdale, Julian
Braine, BernardHay, JohnRobson Brown, Sir William
Brawis, JohnHeath, Rt. Hn. EdwardScott-Hopkins, James
Brinton, Sir TattonHendry, ForbesSharples, Richard
Bromley-Davenport.Lt.-Col.SirWalterHiley, JosephShepherd, William
Brooke, Rt. Hn. HenryHill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)Sinclair, Sir George
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Hirst, GeoffreySmith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Bruce-Gardyne, J.Hogg, Rt. Hn. QuintinSmyth, Rt. Hn. Brig. Sir John
Buchanan-Smith, AlickHopkins, AlanSpearman, sir Alexander
Buck, AntonyHordern, PeterStainton, Keith
Bullus, Sir EricHornby, RichardStodart, Anthony
Buxton, RonaldHutchison, Michael ClarkStoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Maloolm
Campbell, GordonIrvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Studholme, Sir Henry
Carlisle, MarkJennings, J. C.Summers, Sir Spencer
Chichester-Clark, R.Johnson Smith, G. (East Grinstead)Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)Jopling, MichaelTaylor, Edward M. (G'gow,Cathcart)
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)Kaberry, Sir DonaldTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)Kershaw, AnthonyTemple, John M.
Cooke, RobertKilfedder, James A.Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)
Cooper, A. E.Kimball, MarcusThompson, Sir Richard (Croydon,S.)
Cooper-Key, Sir NeillLagden, GodfreyThomeycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter
Corfield, F. V.Lancaster, Col. C. G.Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
Costain, A. P.Legge-Bourke, Sir HarryTilney, John (Wavertree)
Courtney, Cdr. AnthonyLloyd, Rt. Hn. selwyn (Wirral)Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Crawley, AidanLongden, GilbertTweedsmuir, Lady
Cunningham, Sir KnoxLoveys, Walter H.Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Curran, CharlesLucas, Sir JocelynWalder, David (High Peak)
Dalkeith, Earl ofMcAdden, Sir StephenWalker, Peter (Worcester)
Dance, JamesMacArthur, IanWard, Dame Irene
Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)Weatherill, Bernard
Dean, PaulMcLaren, MartinWebster, David
Digby, Simon WingfieldMaginnis, John E.Whitelaw, William
Dodds-Parker, DouglasMarten, NeilWilliams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir AlecMathew, RobertWills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)Maude, AngusWilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Eyre, ReginaldMis[...]ampbell, NormanWoodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Farr, JohnMitchell, DavidYates, William (The Wrekin)
Fisher, NigelMonro, Hector
Fietcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)More, JasperTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Foster, Sir JohnMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Sir David Renton and
F[...]aser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)Mott-Radclyffe, Sir CharlesMr. Ian Percival.
Albu, AustenCarmichael, NellEdwards, Robert (Bilston)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Castle, Rt. Hn. BarbaraEvans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Crossman, Rt. Hn. R. H. S.Fietcher, Ted (Darlington)
Armstrong, ErnestCullen, Mrs. AlicaFloud, Bernard
Atkinson, NormanDarling, GeorgeFoot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)
Bacon, Miss AliceDavies, Harold (Leek)Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)
Barnett, JoelDavies, Ifor (Gower)Freeson, Reginald
Bence, Cyrilde Freitas, Sir GeoffreyGalpern, Sir Myer
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony WedgwoodDiamond, JohnGourlay, Harry
Blenkinsop, ArthurDodds, NormanGregory, Arnold
Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S.W.)Driberg, TomGriffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Bray, Dr. JeremyDuffy, Dr. A. E. P.Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury)Dunn, James A.Hamilton, William (West Fife)

The Committee divided: Ayes 176, Noes 128.

Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)Silkin, John (Deptford)
Hannan, WilliamMackie, George Y. (C'ness & S'land)Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)
Harper, JosephMackie, John (Enfield, E.)Skeffington, Arthur
Hart, Mrs. JudithMacMillan, MalcolmSlater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Hazell, BertMahon, Simon (Bootle)Small, William
Heffer, Eric S.Manuel, ArchieSnow, Julian
Henderson, Rt. Hn. ArthurMapp, CharlesSteel, David (Roxburgh)
Herblson, Rt. Hn. MargaretMikardo, IanStones, William
Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)Milne, Edward (Blyth)Swingler, Stephen
Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasMonslow, WalterTaverne, Dick
Hoy, JamesMorris, John (Aberavon)Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)Mulley,Rt.Hn.Frederick(Sh<ob/>ldPk)Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline)O'Malley, BrianThomas, [...]lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Hynd, H. (Accrington)Orme, StanleyThornton, Ernest
Hynd, John (Attercliffe)Owen, WillThorpe, Jeremy
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)Pargiter, G. A.Tinn, James
Irving, Sydney (Dartford)Parkin, B. T.Urwin, T. W.
Jackson, ColinPeart, Rt. Hn. FredWhite, Mrs. Eirene
Jay, Rt. Hn. DouglasPopplewell, ErnestWhitlock, William
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)Pursey, Cmdr. HarryWilley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Johnson,James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)Randall, HarryWilliams, Albert (Abertillery)
Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)Rankin, JohnWilliams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)Redhead, EdwardWillis, George (Edinburgh,E.)
Jones, T. W. (Merion[...]th)Reynolds, G. W.Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Lawton, GeorgeRoberta, Albert (Normanton)Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Lipton, MarcusRowland, ChristopherZilliacus, K.
Lubbock, EricSt. John-Stevas, Norman
Mab[...]on, Dr. J. DicksonShinwell, Rt. Hn. E.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
McBride, NeilShore, Peter (Stepney)Mr. Richard Crawshaw and
MacColl, JamesShort,Rt.Hn.E.(N'c'tle-on-Tyne,C.)Mr. Thomas Swain.

Clause added to the Bill.