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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Success in the Private Members' Ballot gives a back-bench Member of Parliament a unique opportunity of promoting legislation which has a reasonable chance of becoming law. Today I am inviting the House to give a Second Reading to my Penalties for Murder Bill which I believe would, if enacted, not only play a significant part in curbing the numbers of murders and homicide killings but, through its general pattern of deterrence, have an effect on the dramatic upsurge in violent crime which we have witnessed in recent years. The House will note that the Bill is sponsored by hon. Members from both major parties and by people from most areas of the country. I am grateful to them.
One of the basic pledges which the Conservative Party made to the people in 1970 was that we would take strong action to curb the rise in violent crime. Since then the Government have faced many urgent and complex problems, but the alarming growth in violence is such that I believe the time has come to make that pledge a reality.
There are those who claim that appeals for tougher action against violent crime and murder are unnecessary and scare-mongering because our violence figures are small compared with places like New York where murder and mugging are features of everyday life. However, our comparisons should surely not be with a situation in social and environmental ghettoes where fear, intimidation and violence are so deep-rooted, but with the position we had in Britain before our decision-making processes were infiltrated by those who appear to have a near obsession with the welfare of criminals and scant regard for the victims of violent crime.
There is no need to manufacture proof of the seriousness of the situation. The facts are there for everyone to see in the official figures which have been published by both the Home Office and the Scottish Office. On Monday the Ministers gave me the latest figures. Murder convictions in England and Wales have risen by 90 per cent. between 1961 and 1971. Convictions for homicide killings in 1971 were more than double the 1961 total. Crimes of violence in the same period rose by a staggering 167 per cent. Put another way, in 1971 there were about two murders per week, four manslaughter killings per week, and each day of that year there was an average of 130 assaults or other crimes of violence. Any rational assessment of what these figures mean in terms of human fear, pain and suffering must show that we have a desperately serious and worsening problem.
In Scotland the position is just as disturbing. In 1961 we had four murder convictions. Ten years later we had 40. In 1961 there were 1,661 crimes of violence. In 1971 the total was over 3,700.
These statistics are not mere numbers in a Home Office computer. They represent a dangerous and alarming tendency, which is reflected in the concern of our law-abiding citizens who look to Parliament for protection.
I am convinced that the increase in murders and killings stems partly, if not largely, from the absence of a meaningful deterrent. When Parliament abolished capital punishment in two stages—in 1957 and in 1965—the so-called life sentence became the penalty for murder. I believe that it was a mistake to abolish capital punishment. I also believe that the life sentence has not proved an adequate deterrent, particularly in the cases of criminals who compare the life sentence with the penalties which can be imposed for armed robbery.
When capital punishment was in operation few criminals carried firearms. But since abolition the use of weapons has become a serious and alarming problem. It is regrettable that statistics are not available for crimes involving the use of firearms before 1967. Perhaps the Home Secretary will explain why this is so. But, even in the short period since 1967, the incidence of crimes involving the use of firearms has escalated dramatically according to the figures which the Minister gave me on Monday. He explained that in 1967 there were 792 crimes involving the use of firearms in England and Wales. In 1971, four years later, the total had soared to 1,735—an increase of more than 100 per cent. in four years.
What of the existing deterrent? In the 10 years from 1961 to 1971, more than 200 prisoners have been released from English and Welsh prisons after serving life sentences. The shortest period of imprisonment was six months—in a tragic case—the longest was 24 years, and the average worked out at precisely 8·7 years. It is little wonder that the penalty is regarded by some members of the public as a hit of a farce.
It is claimed that this average is totally misleading because it does not take into account those who are still serving life sentences. But it is interesting to note from the Ministers' figures and the Criminal Law Revision Committee's Report that of the 869 who were serving a life sentence in August 1972, only 96 had served more than nine years, but the important thing is, how long will they stay in prison?
The report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee suggests that the previous averages cannot be compared with the future position, because the abolition of capital punishment has resulted in murderers who would have been hanged under the old law being imprisoned, along with those who would have been reprieved and sentenced to life imprisonment. The report claims that the murderers now serving life imprisonment are different from those who were imprisoned at the time when capital punishment was in force.
Just how significant is this change? According to the figures which, again, I have obtained from the Home Office, the total number of persons who were hanged in England and Wales from the beginning of 1956—that is about 17 years ago—until 1965 was 29. It is difficult to see how this figure of 29 would make any significant statistical impact by comparison with the 869 persons who are at present serving life sentences.
There might be another argument. It might be claimed that since the aboli-of capital punishment there have been far more murders which might have been capital murders under the old law. If that is the case, surely it proves more conclusively than ever the absence of a meaningful and effective deterrent. Even if there were to be a change in the situation and a lengthening of the average life sentence because of a change of policy by the parole boards, or a change of heart of successive Home Secretaries, can we say that the evolving of a life sentence through the passing of time has anything like the same deterrent effect as a minimum sentence imposed at the time of the sentence, when the crime is fresh in the minds of the public and the criminal community.
That is the kernel of the argument put forward by the Emslie Committee which reported to the Secretary of State for Scotland in November and which unanimously recommended the change of law which is incorporated in the Bill. The committee contended that the fixing of a minimum sentence at the time of sentencing would make potential offenders more aware of the likely consequences of a similar crime. In Scotland we have good reason to be aware of the deterrent effect of a determinate sentence because, when a serious outbreak of razor slashing occurred in Glasgow—the hon. Members for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. James White) and Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) will remember this—a series of substantial determinate sentences imposed by Lord Carmont on criminals guilty of this crime resulted in the virtual disappearance of razor slashing. Glasgow thugs stopped carrying razors, in the same way as criminals avoided carrying firearms when capital punishment was in operation.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the average length of sentence given for this crime since the period of Lord Carmont has been greater, and, in spite of the hon. Gentleman's argument, violence has increased? The two points put together disprove the hon. Gentleman's case.
The hon. Gentleman will remember, as he lives in Glasgow, that Glasgow had a serious outbreak of razor slashing. Three sentences imposed by Lord Carmont received considerable publicity, and razor slashing in Glasgow since then has been virtually unknown, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.
The Bill proposes that in all save exceptional cases judges imposing a life sentence for murder should be obliged to specify the minimum sentence which they would recommend.
The arguments for and against this change are broadly covered in the two official reports which have been published recently—the Emslie Report, which supported the change, and the Criminal Law Revision Committee Report, which opposed it. The House will have to decide today which argument carries more weight.
One thing must be said at the outset. The Emslie Committee was chaired by a High Court judge but also had within its membership a former chief constable, a former Crown agent, a vice-chairman of a parole board, a former prison governor, a QC and a superintendent of a State hospital. It was a broadly-based committee which could consider the problems and consequences of murder in all its aspects.
By comparison, the Criminal Law Revision Committee, while consisting of eminent and worthy men, is manned entirely by High Court judges, magistrates, barristers, lawyers and professors of law. Although I do not suggest for a moment that these highly qualified and distinguished men would not take the public interest fully into account or that their consultations with outside bodies were inadequate, I cannot but feel that a committee which does not include representatives of the police, who are on the front line of violent crime, the prison service, which has to deal with the prisoners, the hospital and welfare services, or the social work services, is an inappropriate body to consider penalties for murder from the point of view of deterrence and of public confidence in these penalties. The Criminal Law Revision Committee is re- garded by some members of the public as a judges' and barristers' trade union. It is shameful that we should regard it as the appropriate body to guide us on the question of penalties for murder when it contains no representative of the police service, the prison service or the welfare services.
The Emslie Committee, which was broadly based, took the view that the life sentence in its present form was an inadequate deterrent and that public confidence needed to be restored. I doubt whether anyone could argue with that, in view of the trend in murder statistics.
Another view which I share is that the fixing of minimum sentences would enable a clear distinction to he made by the court between one murderer and another. Moreover, the fixing of a minimum sentence at the time would make potential offenders more aware of the likely consequences of a similar crime.
If, for example, a series of minimum sentences of 20 or 30 years were imposed for brutal categories of murder, I am convinced that this would send a shiver of fear through the criminal community infinitely more effectively than would a simple life sentence which could, in the course of time, prove to be any period of years depending on the feelings at the time of the parole board and the feelings of whoever happened to be the Home Secretary. How can a deterrent be real if it is not seen to be effective until 10, 20 or 30 years after, and depends entirely on the composition of the parole board at the time or on the feelings of the Home Office at the time? For this reason, the Emslie Committee concluded that the pronouncement of a minimum sentence would sharpen the value of the deterrent.
It is contended in the Criminal Law Revision Committee Report—on page 15, in paragraph 27—that the procedure whereby the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice require to be consulted before a prisoner is released gives the judge an effective say in the actual sentence to be served.
To this the Emslie Committee points out that although the consultation procedures are identical in Scotland it regards the procedure as:
of little value and contributing nothing to the general deterrent influence of the penalty itself".
I think that is fair comment, because after 8, 10 or 20 years the trial judge may not be available—he may not even be in this world—and, even if he is, it is probable that he will have but faint recollection of the proceedings at the trial. In short, while the judges have the task of determining the custodial element for the purpose of deterrence and prevention in all common law crime, they play little effective part in determining the period of years served by a murderer.
Even if we accept the view of the Criminal Law Revision Committee on the effectiveness of consultation, can we really believe that a life sentence which in the course of time Droves to be one of 20 or 30 years can have anything like the deterrent effect of one imposed at the time of the trial? Deterrence is the basis of my case. The best service that we can provide for the criminal is to deter him from engaging in crime.
Other arguments are put forward against such a change. For example, it is argued that judges already have discretion to impose minimum sentences. That has been true since 1965. But according to the figures in the Criminal Law Revision Committee Report, at page 15, paragraph 25, there have been only 42 minimum recommendations although there have been 503 life sentences imposed for murder since 1965. It is clear that the discretionary power is used very sparingly by judges, and rarely if ever used by some.
Certainly I am aware of judicial feeling. Certainly that should be fully taken into account. I am aware of the arguments put forward in the report that in certain cases the imposition of a minimum sentence would have no deterrent value. That is why, after consultations with the Home Secretary, I specifically inserted an exclusion clause, that in particular cases where judges felt that it was not appropriate there would be no need to do this so long as they gave the reasons.
The committee claims that there would be little deterrent value in cases where short minimum sentences were imposed. My contention is that such cases could be dealt with by the exclusion clause in the Bill whereby a minimum sentence does not require to be made in exceptional circumstances, although the judge would be required to state his reasons for not imposing a minimum.
The committee then contends that if minimum sentences were imposed, prisoners who were detained for more than the minimum would be
motivated by a sense of injustice".
That comment is at paragraph 30 of the report. That is a strange argument because, of course, exactly the same problem can arise with minimum sentences under the present discretionary arrangements. There is no change in principle here, and I would suggest that it cannot be used as an argument against the Bill; it can only be used as an argument against minimum sentences at all. But apart from this, I very much doubt if the possibility of a prisoner feeling aggrieved is an adequate case for rejecting a proposal to strengthen the law and, I believe, save human life.
Another argument put forward is that if judges felt that the appropriate minimum sentence was the rest of the prisoner's natural life, it would
deprive the prisoner of all hope.
That assessment is contained in para. 30 on page 16.
Here again, this argument is not relevant to the Bill because exactly the same problem arises under the present discretional arrangements whereby a judge may, if he wishes, impose a minimum sentence.
There is another argument advanced in the committee's report, and it is a surprising one. At para. 16 on page 11 it is said that judges would find difficulty in determining when in fact a prisoner who was committed to prison would kill again. I do not regard this as the real motivation which a judge should take into account to agree the deterrent value of the penalty.
What perplexes me more than anything about the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee is that, faced with a dramatic rise in murder and homicide, with a dramatic increase in the use of firearms by criminals, and after a year in which murder and violence have broken all previous records, the committee recommend no significant change in the law apart from suggesting that prisoners sentenced to minimum sentences, like Sewell, the police murderer, should have the right to appeal against that minimum sentence. It is significant, perhaps, with the composition of the committee, that faced with this situation it says that the present law is adequate and that we should let it follow through its course.
I feel that the arguments advanced by the committee, which in any event the committee indicates are interim observations and might be changed in the final report, are not such that the House would accept. It is interesting to note that during the Report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill the then Home Secretary indicated that the committee would not wish to bring forward an interim report and that it thought that that would be unhelpful and would make difficulties for the committee. Nevertheless, after the Emslie Committee reported, the Criminal Law Revision Committee rushed through an interim report and said that the report could be changed.
My Bill propose further changes. I propose that the parole board should be strengthened by adding to its membership a serving police officer and a serving prison officer. My contacts with the police have convinced me that they are concerned about some decisions made by the parole hoards and I believe that they are more than concerned about the way in which some prisoners are being released. Surely the police, who are facing the upsurge of violence, and the prison officers, who have the difficult task of looking after prisoners and maintaining order in our prisons, should have at least a say in the work of the parole boards.
I appreciate that there may be some who have doubts about what I propose; but, on the other hand, there have been few other practical suggestions as to how the life sentence can be altered to provide a more effective deterrent and to restore public confidence. I think that I am, therefore, entitled to ask the House at least to permit the Bill to be discussed thoroughly and in detail by a Standing Committee. I can assure the House that I and my sponsors have an open mind on any constructive amendments which might be presented.
The least to which the public and the police are entitled is that our Bill should go to a Committee for full discussion. There are no other proposals before the House on dealing with murder. A failure at least to debate the Bill in detail—a Bill which has the support of a broadly-based committee appointed by the Government and the virtually unanimous support of the Scottish judiciary, which the Lord Advocate I am sure, will confirm—will give the impression that Parliament is satisfied with the law in its present form.
I felt that I would be failing my constituents and those who carry the difficult task of upholding the law and containing violence if I did not present the Bill and appeal to the House to give it a Second Reading. Certainly, if nothing is done I am convinced that the brutal murders, the muggings, the stabbings, the slashings and the cowardly assaults which are becoming more and more a normal feature of everyday life in our towns and cities will continue to grow in number.
Our first responsibility is the maintenance of law and order and the protection of the people who elected us to this House. In these circumstances I appeal to the House at least to give the Bill a Second Reading and to let it be discussed, with the other possibilities, in Committee. Let us at least try to make progress.
The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) for raising this issue and for the manner in which he has put forward his argument. I want to assure the House that in expressing the opinion that his Bill should be rejected I am not underestimating for one moment the dangers to society that are arising from current tendencies to violence and the surge of criminal activity with which we are currently concerned. It is the duty of us all to try to discover the remedy for this, so far as we can.
I have considered the Bill, the speech made by the hon. Member and the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee with these factors preeminently in mind. But I am bound to say that I do not find in the Bill, on analysis and inquiry—I say this with respect to the hon. Member—anything that really assists in the appropriate treatment of the present situation, in which crimes of violence are such a threat to society.
I think that the remedy is to be found somewhere at the centre of social and economic issues with which the House has to concern itself. But if in the treatment of penalties for offences a measure came forward which had the feature that it made the deterrent effect of penalty upon the present situation greater and more substantial, I would watch such a measure with the greatest and most sympathetic care. I do not find this feature here. I shall have reason to refer later to what the hon. Gentleman had to say about "the meaningful deterrent", but I must tell the House that there is no kind of meaningful deterrent that I can see in the language of the Bill or its provisions.
One of the services the hon. Gentleman has rendered in bringing the Bill forward for our consideration is that it enables us to consider again the provisions of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalties) Act 1965. When the provisions of that Act were last considered by the House in 1969, the issue was whether the abolition of capital punishment should be abandoned because an amendment had been comprised in the 1965 Act making it necessary for the House to consider that issue of principle—again, four years after the passage of the first Act.
The consequence was that when the matter was debated in 1969 the minds of hon. Members were applied to the central issue of principle, whether the abolition of capital punishment should be retained, and attention was not given, as it is now possible to give it, to the machinery and the technical issues arising under the 1965 Act. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman has done us a service in that respect. The consideration that the 1965 Act has received since it was debated in 1969 has been mainly confined to the discussions that occurred in Committee and on Report of the Criminal Justice Bill last year.
The hon. Member is right in recognising that the most significant thing that has happened affecting the whole matter is the recent publication of the two reports to which he has referred. The Criminal Law Revision Committee's Report this month is a report which I am confident the House will want to consider very carefully. It sheds a great deal of valuable light upon the problem. It is dated, and was published, since the hon. Gentleman presented his Bill.
I turn to the question of "the meaningful deterrent". The provision in the Bill is for, among other matters, a minimum sentence, where
the court shall (save in such circumstances as it considers exceptional)
make provision for a recommendation for a minimum term. The House will appreciate that nothing could be less meaningful by way of deterrent than the reference to exceptional circumstances; this is because every criminal is probably inclined to the view that exceptional circumstances apply to his sentence. It is the finality and unqualified character of a penalty which is just the attribute which makes its deterrent value significant and important.
The Bill does not achieve that effect. It also goes some distance towards reducing the discretion of the trial judge in his treatment of the matter. This is a very undesirable feature in principle for any Bill to encourage. I take the view, which may be regarded as old-fashioned, that at the very heart, and as a foundation, of our civil liberties and of the rule of law there is a relation of confidence and trust between the judiciary and the public. I recognise that this is to speak in broad terms. It is not trite. This confidence is of vast constitutional importance for us all as affecting the way we conduct our affairs.
What the Bill does in Clause 1(2) is not merely to make mandatory the sentence which is to be imposed the firm minimum but even to go to the length of, as it were, putting into the mouth of the judiciary the formal language of sentence. The practical consequences of that and the spirit of it are contrary to what is best in our traditions.
I want to draw attention to certain specific recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I shall deal first with the suggestion that the committee must be regarded, perhaps in contrast with the report of the Scottish Committee, as representing a too narrow field of opinion and outlook. I notice that part of the hon. Gentleman's observations received some indications of support from hon. Members opposite. I hope that hon. Members realise who are the members of this committee and the extent to which they can be regarded, albeit in their status as lawyers, as having the closest possible touch with the police and with those other sources of authority with which the hon. Gentleman has expressed himself, perfectly naturally and rightly, as so greatly concerned.
The committee includes among its members three Lords Justices of Appeal whose acquaintance with and experience of the criminal law is each by each, and certainly in the aggregate, unsurpassed. They are Lord Justice Edmund Davies, Lord Justice Lawton and Mr. Justice James, as he was at the date of the report but he is now a member of the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. There could not be three judges of greater experience and with more practical and understanding of the different fields with which the hon. Gentleman has indicated that it is right that a committee of this kind should be concerned.
I draw attention also to the circumstances that the Common Serjeant is on this committee, with all that that means in experience of trials in the City of London and the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, with the advantages and facilities which he enjoys of understanding the view taken by those other elements in our society with which the hon. Gentleman has expressed concern; and the Director of Public Prosecutions. In other words, although the academic lawyer is represented in the committee, and very properly so, the whole weight and substance of the committee is strongly founded upon experience not only of the broadest intellectual kind in considering legal problems but of the administration of the law and knowledge of the world and the conduct of affairs.
While nobody would dispute that distinction of the gentlemen on the Criminal Law Revision Committee, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman not saying two things, first, that the earlier committee, while widely representative, was not as representative as this committee consisting of members of his own noble profession; and second, in effect that the only people to express a view on the operation of the National Health Service are doctors?
I do not, of course, admit any of that. I am simply answering the point, and answering it factually, that was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart, and pointing out the level of recommendation and the breadth of experience which has to be considered in this instance. It would he quite otherwise, of course, if the hon. Member, or anybody else, had been able to fault the recommendations on the basis of there being any lack of experience in the committee. It is the last thing one would expect to find, but one would look for evidence of it. Even non-lawyers are fully aware of the importance of evidence——
—it was not intended to be—and there has not been the slightest indication that the content of the report suffers in the least degree from any lack of awareness or knowledge of the practicalities with which the hon. Gentleman was concerned.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman were to set up a committee to review, for instance, the law on abortion, would he say that it would be appropriate to have a committee consisting entirely of consultants and doctors?
That is hypothetical. What I am saying about this committee is simply that, albeit it is confined to lawyers, they are lawyers of vast experience and knowledge of the matter. That is what I am asking the House to bear in mind. The Home Secretary, I am perfectly sure, is well aware of that, and it is right that the House should give great weight to the report. This arises only because of the observations which the hon. Gentleman had to make about the committee which, after this Bill was presented, expressed itself in terms which were understandably not acceptable to the hon. Member and, I have no doubt, not persuasive to him.
Is not the attitude of hon. Members opposite who have intervened that if the committee had reported otherwise, and in support of the arguments put forward by the promoter of the Bill, those hon. Members opposite would have said "Look, this powerful judicial committee has put the whole matter in our favour"?
I think there is a great deal of force in that. I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend.
What does this report say? It says that the mandatory life sentence for murder should be retained, and gives that recommendation unanimously. It deals with several of the matters which have given rise to public concern. I would draw the attention of the House to the provisions in paragraph 28:
As we have said before in considering the possibility of replacing the indeterminate life sentence by a determinate one, the trial judge may well not have sufficient information available to him at the time of trial to enable him to know what minimum period to recommend. If the trial judge were required to fix a minimum period in every case he might be put in a position of great difficulty in having to do so in circumstances in which he did not really feel able to determine the appropriate period.
Here is a committee consisting of lawyers and pointing out the difficulties which lie in the way of the trial judge, having the kind of responsibility which this Bill seeks to impose upon him. I would have thought it could by now be fairly generally agreed that the best kind of treatment of penalty for murder is one which will give room and scope to revision, to reconsideration of all the circumstances, from time to time at appropriate intervals. That is the key to the whole matter, always subject to the need of public security.
If we have discarded, as I think the House must discard, parts of what is proposed in the Bill because they are not meaningful, as I suggest, what is left to consider is whether the Bill does anything to provide a greater safeguard than at present exists for the public. In terms of safeguards for the public, incomparably the most valuable treatment of that matter is one which makes it practicable and possible to have repeated revision, repeated consideration of changes in circumstances, repeated consideration by competent and experienced people of what all the relevant factors are, and particularly the element of security. This kind of matter is simply not available to the judge at the time the determinate or minimum sentence which the hon. Member has recommended to the House falls to be made.
The character of the parole board and the way that it is working, is a matter on which many of us will wait with great interest to hear what the Minister has to say. Any information and facts further to those we already have and which he could make available will be welcome.
I invite the House to recognise the importance in what I have put forward of the timeous and constant need for revision if justice is to be done and fairness to be dealt not only to the prisoner but to society. I am ready wholeheartedly to accept the position that the security of society is our pre-eminent aim, particularly in this time of strain in our social history. The view has been expressed that everyone knows that as things are the sentence for life imprisonment does not mean that in practice.
What the committee had to say was:
Since a number of criticisms have been made of the present mandatory life sentence, it seemed that the first matter for us to consider was what, if anything, was wrong with it. It is said that persons sentenced to life imprisonment seldom served more than 9 years and that, therefore, criminals may believe that they have nothing to lose in committing murder in order to avoid identification for some other serious offence, e.g. robbery, for which, if convicted, they may well serve a sentence at least as long as 9 years.
The committee went on:
If criminals do believe this they do so under a misapprehension and we feel that it is important that they, and the public, should realise that it is wrong to assume that a person sentenced to life imprisonment for murder will be released after serving only 9 years.
The committee points out that there is a misapprehension widely held on this point.
I do not believe that criminals will read the Bill. I have dealt with the meaningful deterrent point. If any criminal person does study the Bill he will not derive very much enlightenment from it.
The report deals specifically with these criticisms and I desire to refer to one other. It says:
Another fundamental objection to the suggestion that there should be a determinate sentence for murder in place of the present mandatory sentence is the difficulty that the trial judge would have in sentencing a person convicted of murder to a fixed term of years. Although it is said that the trial judge is in the best position to know what length of sentence the murderer should serve, we do not agree that the judge is in the best position to safeguard the interest of the public by imposing a determinate sentence. It is particularly difficult in cases of murder to predict at the time of the sentence whether the murderer in question will have to be detained indefinitely or not, or at what stage of his sentence he will become unlikely to kill again.
These observations in the report coming at this stage must be given the most careful consideration by the House in its reflections on what the Bill proposes.
I say with respect to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart that there is in his thinking, revealed by what he has had to say about the composition of the parole board and the recommendation of his Bill in that regard, a belief that the whole system should, as it were, be stiffened and strengthened by increasing the element of representation of prison and police officers on the parole board and in other areas. This line of thinking is founded, it seems, on the implication in his own mind that there is a kind of conflict here between the interests of the police and the interests of other sections of the community, between the concern and outlook of the prison officers and the concern and outlook of other responsible officials and bodies.
I do not believe that there is any such polarisation. I believe that that line of reasoning is founded upon an incorrect premise. I will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say about the operation and working of the parole board. If there are reported defects in the operation of the board due to the character of its personnel and so forth, we will give that consideration. I have no reason to think that there is any ground for concern in that respect.
With respect to what the hon. Gentleman has said, I put it to the House that the meaningful deterrent is not in his Bill. I am sure of that. This is because of its form and because of the provision it makes for special circumstances. The meaningful deterrent is not there, and the element of constraint which it imposes upon the discretion of the judiciary—the straitjacket being carried even to the point of the formulation of the language of this sentence—reveals an attitude to the matter which is wrongly conceived, in my view. Without for a moment underestimating the gravity of the problem with which the Bill is concerned and about which the hon. Gentleman has spoken, I do not see the shadow of a remedy in the measure that he proposes.
Whatever views we may have about the Bill, I do not think anyone would dispute that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) has raised an issue of intense public interest. We all have cause to he greatful to him for the manner in which he has raised it in what I thought was an admirable speech. Furthermore, with all of his intentions, if not all of his methods, I find myself wholly in sympathy.
Some of us who were retentionists and opposed the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill through all its stages did so not because we were unregenerate hangers but because we believed the choice of a suitable alternative would prove infinitely harder than some abolitionists would have us believe and because we thought that the alternative had not been thought out. We foresaw that abolition would not simply rid us of hanging but that it might also fundamentally alter, at least in some minds, the concept of murder and make it less fearful. One witness to the Royal Commission said of capital punishment that murder is a terrible crime because men are hanged for murder. There is a great deal of truth in that.
To some extent our misgivings have been fulfilled. The gap between hanging and any other acceptable alternative, however devised, is bound to be wide. Why else were abolitionists so adamant? We have had more than one attempt since 1965 to narrow the gap, to make the alternative deterrent more convincing. This latest attempt of my hon. Friend is certainly an improvement on that which some of us made during the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill about a year ago. Insofar as a job can be done, he has done an excellent job of it.
For reasons which I have given, I am in sympathy with what my hon. Friend is trying to do, and I am sure the public will see it in that light. They will take the view that to require a court to declare the minimum term of imprisonment, which would in some circumstances be an impressive number of years, would strengthen the deterrent and so increase their protection. Moreover, more seriously, they would see in the defeat of the Bill, the defeat of these objects, the rejection of a measure designed to increase their protection however marginally. But they will do this in some measure because the life sentence has been consistently devalued. It has had a "bad Press" since 1965, and I am bound to say that some of us have played our part in that.
On this I accept the words of the Criminal Law Revision Committee in paragraph 15:
In our opinion the argument that a determinate sentence for murder would have a greater deterent effect is put forward on a mistaken assumption as to the length of time actually served by the life sentence prisoner".
The table given at the end of the report shows that in the decade 1962 to 1972, out of 212 releases, 85 had served nine years, 51 had served eight years, 16 had served seven years and 23 had served 10 years. That is a total of 175 out of 212, so that the mistaken assumption to which the committee refers is, in a sense, an excusable one because the figures certainly suggest a particular trend.
But, of course, and here I take issue with my hon. Friend, at this distance from the 1957 Act and the 1965 Act the evidence is inconclusive. We know that in August 1972 19 out of 72 life sentence prisoners who had been convicted of murder had been in prison for 12 years or more. We do not know what those figures will look like 10 years from now. We may presume that they will show that the proportion of murderers in prison for 12 to 15 years or more will be considerably higher than it is today. Would we, if that were so, agree that the life sentence on its present basis would be acceptable? If that were so, would my hon. Friend feel it was necessary to introduce his Bill? He referred to the passage of time and asked whether we felt it would have the same effect as the minimum sentence given at the time of the crime. But I am not sure that giving a minimum sentence at the time of the crime in every instance would have quite the effect on the public mind that he supposes.
It is agreed that recommending a period of years where the murder is a heinous one and the sentence is long has a considerable effect. It is in such cases that recommendations have been made. Of 42 instances out of 503 cases recommendations were made in 39 for periods of 15 years or above. Those were the crimes in respect of which the public were likely to be most concerned. But what of the remaining 92 per cent.? In many instances recommendations, if they have been given, could certainly not have been for as long as nine years, and we know quite well in respect of many murders that they would have been for considerably less. Recommendations would have been of the order of two or three years, and that might have applied to a considerable number.
I am sure that we all accept what my right hon. Friend is saying, but the public are concerned not with the crime passionelle but with the dastardly murder of the policeman or the prison warder, the man in the execution of his duty. They are not too worried by the recommendation of a relatively short sentence in the case of a domestic tragedy.
I understand my hon. Friend's point, but he must see that in the mind's eye the average life sentence—and that is one of the things we are criticizing—would appear to be ineffective. I hope we would agree that we are not aiming for a high average of sentences on all murders. Surely we are aiming for a deterrent sentence for the sort of crime which is particularly heinous for murder criminally motivated with gain in mind. I question whether the repetition of low figures in every trial where the determinate sentence was given would have the effect on the public mind which is sought in the Bill. They could have the misleading effect of making the life sentence look less convincing than it is now mistakenly judged to be. For my part, dwelling on the reality of the deterrent in the mind's eye of the criminal, I find the passage in the Criminal Law Revision Committee's report not unconvincing, for what, in effect, the panel dwells on is the difficulty for judges in determining in all cases of murder what the appropriate determinate sentence should be.
I listened to what my hon. Friend said about the composition of the committee. There is a touch of irony in his proposal that the Bench, as I understand it, shall have increased responsibilities in this sphere, and his assertion that because the committee is largely composed of the Bench the opinion it has is perhaps less worthy than the opinion offered from his own country. Two possibilities then arise. One is that the sentence will prove by the passage of years to have been excessive; the other is that it may have proved to be inadequate.
As the committee observes, and I believe it to be right and that most Members would accept it:
the most important objection to a determinate sentence for murder is that when a prisoner has completed the whole of his sentence he must be released even though it may not be safe to do so from the public's point of view".
Moreover, if the prisoner serves a determinate sentence until it expires he is not subject to compulsory supervision on release. I merely question whether those two aspects increase the public safeguard. If our primary concern is the safety of the public from once-convicted murderers—and that is at least one reason for keeping them in prison for a long time—I find it difficult to believe that on this evidence a determinate sentence would do a better job than the mandatory life sentence.
I must point out that the Bill suggests not a determinate sentence but a minimum sentence within life sentences with the clear provision that a person could be kept in after the minimum sentence has been served.
That is my next point. I accept the skill with which my hon. Friend has drafted his Bill, but I question whether the device, which gets the best of both worlds because it gets the best of the life sentences and the best of the determinate principle, and which might require a court of appeal to extend the sentence, would be acceptable. The committee expressed a view about this, and I accept it. If we are seeking to achieve the best of both worlds what we are doing will become unacceptable, at least in certain minds. The crux of the matter is whether the mandatory life sentence is in reality—I must not say "a soft option"—as fallible a deterrent as we have led ourselves to believe or whether our view is a misapprehension, though an understandable one. This is pre-eminently a matter in which Parliament has a heavy responsibility. It is pre-eminently an issue on which the public look to Parliament for sound guidance.
We can excuse public misapprehension about a life sentence, though I doubt whether all professional criminals are of like mind. Parliament's misapprehension, in the light of advice from the Criminal Law Revision Committee, seems to be much less excusable. We are required to judge not appearances but reality. For my part I desire, as I did as a retentionist, to see murder put in a class apart, notwithstanding the fact that the line between murder and man slaughter is becoming increasingly blurred. As the committee observed in paragraph 18:
At the moment murder is singled out from all other crimes by attaching to it a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment; and this serves to emphasise the gravity of the crime.
This is very important. If we wish the life sentence to carry weight, as I believe the passage of years will show it does, we shall do well by leaving it alone, subject only to Section 1(2) of the 1965 Act, for which the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker of Waddington, was responsible.
Artificial additions—I will not call them cosmetics—will not strengthen the situation but may ultimately devalue it. However the public may view it, this could in certain instances diminish their safeguards against more brutal and heinous types of murder.
Would my right hon. Friend agree that the weakness of the argument advanced so admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) is that he confuses sentence with recommendation? The mandatory recommendation which would be available in each case in certain exceptional circumstances, if the Bill went through, is not a sentence but merely a recommendation, with a quite different effect.
I accept that. I am still in slight doubt whether my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart is concerned with altering sentences for murder or altering the undoubted misapprehension in the public mind. In other words, I wonder to what extent the Bill—I say this in the friendliest way—is, in a sense, designed as a public relations exercise to improve the public's view of what a life sentence is capable of achieving.
May we not take the point a little further'? If the recommendation is something against which one can appeal, it must be part of the sentence; otherwise the person would not have the right of appeal.
What my hon. Friend is doing is seeking to extend the present system, but making it a requirement to make a recommendation in every case rather than leave it open. The effect of what he would do in all cases would be the same as happens now in respect of those cases, amounting to 8 per cent. of the total, in which the judge chooses to make a recommendation. My hon. Friend is not altering that principle. I feel that on balance we would do better to leave the matter alone and let the passage of time do the rest.
I have always been in favour of the abolition of capital punishment. I disagree with a great many of the points made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor), who introduced his Bill in such an interesting fashion, but I want to deal with the matter upon the basis that he is right and that there has been an increase in murders and crimes of violence.
Let us accept the hon. Gentleman's figures. He based his case on the suggestion that his Bill would be a meaningful deterrent. Let us examine the matter from that point of view. Let us ask ourselves whether it could possibly provide a meaningful deterrent.
The hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), who intervened in the speech of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), rightly said that we should recognise that what the promoter of the Bill is suggesting is a recommendation, and that although that recommendation would carry weight, it can be entirely put aside if there are other considerations.
In considering whether the Bill is a meaningful deterrent, let us examine the different types of crimes of murder. If a man commits a murder which merits the penalty of imprisonment for life, this legislation would not affect him. The judge would sentence the man to imprisonment for life. The difficulty, as was pointed out by the Criminal Law Revision Committee, is that when one gives a man no hope and says, "You will definitely on our recommendation serve imprisonment for life", it destroys all chance for that man. If a man in such a position wants to attack and kill a prison official there is no reason why he should not do so, because nothing can be added to the sentence which he is already serving.
I have a recollection of a case in America in which two young men committed a terrible murder. One of those young men, a youth called Loeb, took courses of education during his term of imprisonment and when released became a prominent and useful member of society. That hope and opportunity would be destroyed if the term of imprisonment really meant life absolutely.
Let us take the serious crimes in which a judge sentences a man to 15, 20, 25 or 30 years' imprisonment. I realise that in a serious case the judge, where he has the power to do so, will impose a sentence of that kind and it may prove to be a deterrent. But the promoter of the Bill must remember that save in exceptional cases he is saying that the imposition of a recommendation is mandatory not only in a murder case involving an adult offender but in a case concerning a youth under 18 who is detained during Her Majesty's pleasure.
Let us suppose that a man finds his wife in bed with her lover and murders the lover: what is the judge to say? Is he to sentence the man to six months, a year, two years, or what? Where is the deterrent against such a crime? One intervention suggested that we were dealing only with crimes involving the killing of a policeman, and so on, but we are not. We must realise that this provision will be mandatory in all cases except those involving exceptional circumstances. Therefore, the judge must impose a sentence of some years.
I suggest that the system that is pursued today is the proper system. It is all very well to run down the recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee and to say that they are only lawyers and that since there was no police constable on the committee that committee could not consider his views. But that committee had the opportunity to study the views of the earlier committee. Let us remember that the judge who sentences a man is a lawyer and when sentencing a man must be in possession of certain facts. Therefore, the situation at present is a reasonable one.
The Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge have to be consulted about the case. When the parole board considers releasing a man on licence, there is on that board a High Court judge. The board is in possession of all the facts and is in the best position to judge whether the man ought to be released. If I thought for a moment that there was anything in the argument that the Bill represented a meaningful deterrent I should support it, but I think that it is nothing of the sort. The existing system is the proper one and I hope, therefore, that the Bill will be rejected.
I hope that the House will agree that it would be convenient for me to intervene in the debate now to give some facts about murder and about the period spent in prison under life sentences, and also to explain the Government's attitude towards the Bill.
This is not the first occasion during the lifetime of this Parliament on which we have debated the proper penalty for murder. We debated it last year during the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill, and we debated it again on the Floor of the House on Report, on an amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler). We are today debating what I accept is a most important issue, and I should like to echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and pay tribute to the admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor).
I do not believe that there is any real difference between hon. Members about my hon. Friend's motives. He wants to ensure that we can show the people of this country that there is now, and there will be in future, the greatest possible deterrent to murder. Where we may disagree—and in the end I shall urge the House to disagree with my hon. Friend—is whether the means proposed by the Bill are a satisfactory way of increasing that deterrent.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South opened the debate on the Report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill he put forward a new clause whose purpose was to enable the trial judge to make the recommendation binding. In the course of that debate my right hon. Friend's predecessor, the then Home Secretary, advised the House that it would be premature to make any changes in the law in advance of the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee which had this matter within its remit at the request of the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). The House and my hon. Friend accepted that advice and the new clause was withdrawn, on the clear understanding that my hon. Friend would come back to this issue when the committee had reported.
There has recently been published the interim report of that committee, dealing with the law of England and Wales, and there has also been published a report by the equally distinguished Emslie Committee dealing with the law of Scotland. Both those committees have come down in favour of the life sentence as such. Both those committees—though I hate to say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South—have come down against his proposal. Where they differ is on the important but, in a way, fairly narrow issue of whether the trial judge should have power to make a recommendation when he considers one should be made, or whether he should be required in all save exceptional cases to make such a recommendation.
The main part of my hon. Friend's Bill seeks to implement that recommendation of the Emslie Committee and apply it to the whole of Great Britain. I know that my hon. Friend would be the first to agree that before presenting the Bill he had not had an opportunity to consider the view of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, because its report had not been published. But what is clear, now that the committee has made known its views, is that my hon. Friend's Bill, which he is seeking to apply to Great Britain as a whole, although it follows faithfully the recommendations of the Emslie Committee is entirely contrary to the recommendations of the Criminal Law Revision Committee and the unanimous views of the Lord Chief Justice and judges of the Queen's Bench Division as recorded in that committee's report.
I should not for a moment like it to be thought a valid criticism that in some respects those two expert bodies differed in their conclusions. As I have reminded the House, on many important matters they have come to the same conclusion. They both support the idea of the mandatory life sentence specifically, as against the determinate sentence, because they believe in the flexibility that a life sentence allows.
Dealing with the advantages of a life sentence as against the determinate sentence, the Criminal Law Revision Committee says, in paragraph 22 on page 13 of its report:
Indeed, it seems to us that the imposition of the life sentence is the only practicable way of safeguarding the public against the compulsory release of one who may still remain a menace to society.
I realise that my hon. Friend has pointed out that his Bill does not move to the determinate sentence but, for reasons which I shall come to later, I suggest that that is a valid thought to bear in mind when deciding whether the Bill increases the safeguarding of society.
Both committees are agreed on the form in which the life sentence of imprisonment should be pronounced. That again is implemented in the Bill, and it is something about which I make no criticism. The main area of disagreement between the two committees is the narrow but informed one of whether the power to recommend should remain discretionary or whether it should be required of the judge to make the recommendation in all save exceptional circumstances.
I do not think that it is altogether surprising that those two committees, although they were in touch with each other and were exchanging working papers, should have come to differing views on this question. I think that it would be a brave man who said that there was not perfectly legitimate room for coming to different opinions on that question. We should not overlook the fact that the committees were working against the backgrounds of different systems of judicial administration and different penal traditions.
Having read both reports one clearly gets the impression that there was a difference of emphasis on the degree of involvement of the judiciary in its consideration of the release of life sentence prisoners between Scotland and England and Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart, in preferring the Emslie Committee and taking its proposals for the whole of the country, bases his case on his belief that the Emslie Committee's view provides a greater deterrent to the potential murderer. Indeed, he said that deterrence is the kernel of his case.
Therefore, as a background to this part of the debate, I would like to remind the House in a purely factual way about the prevalence of murder at this moment. I shall deal only with the figures for England and Wales. I hope that I shall not have to give the House too many figures. Whatever we may say about the obvious gravity of the crime of murder, and although I am sure we all agree that one murder is one murder too many, we are able to say objectively that, happily, murder is not a common event in this country. The number of murders known to the police in 1971, which was the worst year we have had, was 175. If we take the more usual figure for the years since 1957 we find that in recent years the usual figure has varied between 120 and 140. That is a little below three per 1 million of the population.
Of course, we must ask ourselves whether murder is becoming more prevalent. The figures do not rise steadily; they tend to fluctuate. For example, in 1970 the figure was 135. It so happens it was exactly the same figure in 1957, 1959, 1964 and 1965. In some of the other years between that period the figure dropped below 120. In other years it was approximately 150. Those figures must be looked at against a backcloth of steadily mounting crime throughout that period.
I agree. It was only for circumstances of time that I perhaps looked over that note—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I was going to say that. There is a perfectly valid argument that the manslaughters must be added to the murder figure. In fact, the figure comes out at 252. I accept that after adding the manslaughter figures the 1971 figure of 252 is the highest during the period 1957–72. However, one must take that figure against the fluctuation which has occurred from 1957 onwards.
Does the Minister agree that in considering the problem of the increase or otherwise in crimes of murder since the abolition of the death penalty it is relevant to take into consideration the considerable increase in crimes of violence? Bearing in mind that the element of intent necessary to establish the crime of murder is either to kill or to do grievous bodily harm, in many cases the failure to kill may well be a happy accident.
I think I said that the figures for murder must be looked at against a backcloth of steadily increasing figures for other types of crime, and clearly for crimes of violence.
I should have thought that was most likely to be true. Many of the victims who died in past years might have been saved by the medical skill that is now available.
Perhaps I was not expressing myself very well. I was not suggesting for a moment that there are not many arguments to show that the numbers of murders, or offences which might well have been murder, are increasing. All I was saying is that since 1957 and the abolition of capital punishment, although the figures for 1971 are considerably higher than in 1957 there has been a fluctuation both in the number of cases of murder and the number of cases of murder and manslaughter combined.
I shall try, probably with little success, to break the figures down a little more. The kernel of the case seems to be whether we can tell from the figures whether what might be called the particularly bad types of murder—that is, murder in pursuance of criminal enterprise, or murder to resist arrest—have increased substantially since 1957. I am bound to say that it is not easy to establish agreed facts or trends.
The only clear attempt which we can make in the Home Office figures is to distinguish between what we call the "abnormal" murder figure, where the man has been found either guilty but insane or when he has committed suicide following the murder and "the rest". One finds that 55 of the 1971 murders that have been cleared up fell into the class of "abnormal" and 93 into "the rest", whereas in 1970, 23 fell into the class of "abnormal" and 95 fell into "the rest".
I readily concede that if one excludes the suicides and those found guilty but insane one finds that the figure has remained constant, save for the last two years, when the murder figure has been high. That fact tells us a little about the types of murder, the circumstances of murder and the motivation of the murderer, but one has to go down to much more detailed figures on the classification of motive and the relationship between the victim and the suspect. Doing the best that I can, I can tell the House that the figures show clearly—I agree that it is a wide range—that the predominant motives for "normal murder are rage, quarrel, jealousy, revenge or sex, and not theft or other gain, or a desire to escape or resist arrest. Over the last three years, within the figure of total "normal" murders known to the police in 1971–93—in only 18 was the motivation said to be theft, gain or attempt to avoid arrest, as against similar figures of 19 in 1970 and 26 in 1969.
I think the figures show that in the vast majority of murders, whether one is looking at cases where suicide is later committed or not, the victim is a member of the same family of the murderer or is in some close relationship with the murderer, and the degree of murder still varies from the extremes of Sewell, who shoots a policeman, to the mercy killing of a mongoloid child.
Therefore, the figures are relevant to the effect that it is within their context that one has to ask. "Has the present mandatory system of life imprisonment, as we have had it since 1965 for all types of murderers and since 1957 for certain types of murderers, been proved to have failed as a deterrent?" The second question is whether the proposals of this Bill would necessarily increase that deterrent effect if it could be shown to have failed.
I turn now to the question of the effect of life sentences. It is worth repeating that a life sentence is not in any way a sentence for a fixed or average period of years. It is a sentence of liability of imprisonment for life with release only at the decision of the Home Secretary and subject always to the recall of the individual concerned for the rest of his natural life. I want to remind the House of what successive Home Secretaries and Secretaries of State for Scotland have said about their attitude.
I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), when he was Home Secretary, saying that he always considered that the most enormously difficult problem for him was making a decision on whether or not it was appropriate to release an individual back into society. It has been said many times, but I say it again, that no life sentence prisoner is released, however long he has served, unless there are good grounds for thinking that he presents no danger to the public.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart from my own knowledge and experience at the Home Office over the last 2½ years that the security of society—the safety of society—is the foremost consideration in the mind of the Home Secretary and of the Secretary of State for Scotland when deciding on any individual case.
In addition, no person can be released without a favourable recommendation from the parole board, and equally there is a statutory requirement on the Home Secretary to consult the Lord Chief Justice, who in turn consults the trial judge if he is available.
My hon. Friend said that some people think of the life sentence, in a way, as a farce. It simply is not true that any life sentence prisoner is released without the gravest attention to the security of the public as well as attention to the retributive and deterrent considerations of the penalty. Much of the criticism, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford pointed out very effectively, of the way in which life sentences are administered is based on two fallacies.
The first fallacy is that it is possible to draw deductions about the terms which life sentence prisoners will serve in future from the practice before the abolition of capital punishment. The second and much more important fallacy is that it is possible to draw deductions from the terms served by life sentence prisoners who have been released whilst ignoring at the same time the position of those who are still detained.
First, it must be clear that those released up to date are not, whatever my hon. Friend may say, typical of those who have been sentenced to life imprisonment for what we are all concerned about—the really heinous type of murder since the abolition of capital punishment, because, of course, before 1957 all people convicted of murder were sentenced to death. From 1957 to 1965 all people were liable to the death sentence for the category of capital murder, and it follows that anyone convicted of murder in the furtherance of theft, murder by shooting, murder while resisting arrest, or murder of a police officer, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the absence of the deterrent of capital punishment cannot yet have served more than seven years of that life sentence.
I want to show my hon. Friends how figures in crude form can be misleading. In July 1971, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer) asked about the period which was served in prison by those who had been released between 1965 and 1971 and whose murder had been committed in the course of robbery or theft—in other words, persons who, up to 1965, would have been subject to capital punishment. The answer was that between those six years 13 people had been released whose murder came into that category and that they had served periods between eight and 12 years.
But, of course, it follows that at that stage no one had been released who had committed a murder which had fallen into that category, since capital punishment was completely removed in 1965, and because one sees that these 13 had been released after serving periods between eight and 12 years, it would be completely erroneous to suggest that therefore it was likely that anyone who had committed murder in these circumstances could expect to be released at about a 10-year period. Of those 13 persons, eight had been sentenced to death and then reprieved because of mitigating circumstances, three took no part in the actual killing, and the other two had been aged 16 and 17 at the time of the crime. They certainly were not a typical cross-section of people serving life sentences. The lowest sentence they had served was eight years, and they included no one who had been sentenced for that type of murder since the abolition of capital punishment in 1965.
Does it not also follow that if, as the public believes, what the 1957 Act described as the "gangster type" murder has been on the increase during recent years, the consequences of sentencing these men could not possibly show up in the figures for at least another 10 or 15 years?
That is so, and I am coming to that point.
Another cause of misunderstanding is the myth that a life sentence is equivalent to a sentence of nine years.
I want to deal with this matter in two ways, the first very briefly. People say that a life sentence is the equivalent of a nine-year sentence. I merely make the point that nine years in custody is not the equivalent of a nine-year sentence but of a sentence of 13½ years. However, in practice, with the power to release on parole, it could be the equivalent of a 27-year determinate sentence. It is rele- vant in that it is wrong to suggest that because a person serves nine years it is the equivalent of a nine-year sentence.
I want to come on to what I consider the more important point: that because the figures show that the average time spent in prison is 8·7 years a person sentenced to life imprisonment can expect to be released at about the nine-year period. That is based on figures which deal only with those who have been released and ignores those who have not been released. I repeat: each case is considered on its merits, taking into account all the relevant factors, including particularly the nature of the offence, the risk to the public, and the man's progress in prison. Every case is considered fully in the Home Office, having had a report from the local review committee, and if it is thought that there is a case for release the views of the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge, if he is available, are sought at that stage on the question whether it is appropriate that that person should be released. I assure my hon. Friend that, as my right hon. Friend said on many occasions, the greatest weight is and will always be attached to the views of the Lord Chief Justice at that stage.
The Criminal Law Revision Committee pointed out that between April 1968 and October 1970 over 250 cases had been referred to the Lord Chief Justice, and in only seven of those cases had the Home Secretary of the day accepted a recommendation to release against that advice. I am not attempting to make a party political point but I am aware that in only one case since June 1970 has a person been released against the view of the Lord Chief Justice at that time.
The views of the judges on the appropriateness of the time for release go with all the other information to the parole board, which includes three members of the judiciary, and on each panel of the parole board when dealing with life sentences there is always one High Court judge. I repeat, the parole board considers cases and makes recommendations to the Home Secretary, who is then responsible for accepting or rejecting those recommendations. He cannot release unless the parole board recommends release, but he is not bound to accept the recommendation for release.
Last year the parole board recommended release in 54 cases. Despite the whole of the process through which these cases had been through and the contact with the judiciary that occurred the Home Secretary of the day was unable to accept recommendations in eight of those 54 cases, and they were subsequently refused. It must be clear therefore that consideration of public safety is uppermost in the Home Secretary's mind when considering any issue of release.
There is great force in what my hon. and learned Friend said about the misunderstandings. Will he be more specific on one particular aspect? Many of those who urged the abolition of capital punishment did so simply on the ground that it was inhuman. Voices are now being heard from the same quarter, which I understand, that to keep a man in prison for ten or 12 years, much less the whole of his natural life, is inhuman. Does he agree that one of the best ways of reassuring the public and strengthening the only deterrent with which we are left would be to make it clear that, though we all understand those feelings, such considerations will not be allowed to prevail over the safety of the public, and that those who commit murder must expect to suffer precisely that fate?
My hon. and learned Friend has taken many of the words out of my mouth. As one who has advocated abolition I have always accepted as a necessary corollary that people imprisoned for murder will stay there for long periods and, indeed, some may stay there for the rest of their natural lives.
Being conscious of the time I am taking, I will now turn to that figure. As we have not yet felt the full effect of the abolition of capital punishment, clearly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford pointed out, I cannot give examples of the terms served or likely to be served by those convicted of the more heinous types of murders and subsequently released. It is obvious from the figures why this is so. At the end of 1972, of the 668 men and 14 women serving life sentences for murder, 579 had not completed eight years. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart drew the wrong conclusion, because among those 579 must be the types of cases about which concern has been expressed today whether the life sentence is an adequate deterrent. The majority of those serving life sentences for murder would not yet come up for consideration, even if there were truth in the belief that the likely average period of sentence served was nine years.
In 1968, 47 people had served periods of longer than nine years. On 31st December 1972 that figure has risen to 103. Clearly there will be an increasing number of people imprisoned for murder who will have to serve very long sentences. There is no ground for thinking that those who are found guilty of the more heinous types of offences are likely to be released without adequate consideration being given to the need for both deterrence and expression of the gravity of the type of offence that has been committed.
Against that background, where I suggest there is misunderstanding about the effectiveness of the life sentence, I pose the question: would the use of the recommendation in all cases act to strengthen the deterrent? It is important to look at cases where the discretionary power to recommend has been used. The House will know that since the 1965 Act, as a result of an amendment moved by the previous Lord Chief Justice, the court has had power, where it thinks it appropriate, to state the minimum period of imprisonment which it recommends a life sentence prisoner should serve. That provision was introduced by the previous Lord Chief Justice, who was concerned that the trial judge, in an appropriate case, should be able to mark the gravity of the offence and the revulsion of public feeling by indicating what would appear to be a long determinate sentence.
What has happened? Out of the 528 cases in which such a recommendation could possibly have been given, a minimum recommendation has been given in 45 cases. There were two in 1965, six in 1966, none in 1967, three in 1968, nine in 1969, eight in 1970, 11 in 1971 and six in 1972. Of those 45 recommendations, 42 were for periods of 15 years and longer and 28 were for periods of 20 years or longer. Eight of those minimum recommendations were in relation to the murder of policemen, 14 were in relation to murder in furtherance of robbery and seven were, for want of a better word, for gangland killing. It is clear from that that the judges, left to their own discretion, are using their power to recommend in the type of case which the late Lord Chief Justice had in mind. They are using it for the heinous type of case which has been referred to today.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) that we are not concerned about the domestic murder. What we are concerned about is that the judge should make a recommendation of a minimum long sentence, for example, where a policeman has been killed. In every case which has been before the court since 1965 concerning the murder of a policeman the judge has made such a recommendation.
In practice, where it has been left to the judge's discretion a recommendation for a minimum of 25 years or longer has been imposed on all those who have been convicted of the murder of a policeman. There has been one exception. A 14-year-old boy was sentenced to detention during Her Majesty's Pleasure for the stabbing of a policeman, because the judge felt that the boy had acted in a moment of panic. In the type of case with which my hon. Friends the Member for Cathcart and Cannock are concerned such recommendations are being made.
We therefore have to ask ourselve the question whether it would enhance or reduce the deterrent of minimum recommendation were we to use it in all cases rather than in the cases in which it is being used now.
The Criminal Law Revision Committee, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and all the Queen's Bench Division Judges of England and Wales are unanimously opposed to that requirement. I will remind the House briefly of their reasons. The Criminal Law Revision Committee suggests that there is a fundamental difficulty—that the judge may not at the time of the trial have sufficient information to know what period to recommend and might find himself in a considerable dilemma if he had to make a recommendation when he did not feel able to decide on an appropriate period.
The committee refers particularly to the case where there is suspicion or evidence of mental instability. I ask my hon. Friends to face the question of what is the type of sentence which the judge is supposed to recommend in such a case. The defence of diminished responsibility is not raised. The defence is a denial of involvement. The man is found to be guilty and the judge assesses in his own mind that although it has not been raised there is a clear indication of mental instability. What is the minimum period that he should recommend in that case? Does he say, "I have no evidence, but I have a hunch that the man may have a mental problem. It may not be safe to release him, so I must either give him a tremendously long term or make sure that he is never released at all," or does he say, "I must assess this judiciously. The issue has not been raised, but I must decide the appropriate period for which he should be detained and it so happens that my recommendation is a short one"? That recommendation having been made, what happens if the Home Secretary is advised that there is serious concern about the man's mental condition and that there would be a danger to society were he to be released?
My hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart will say at once that there is no difficulty. We have not gone to the determinate sentence, we have the life sentence and he can be detained. That is true, but my personal assessment of the situation is that that will rapidly and immediately come to be looked upon as the sentence which the person has to serve.
At the time of the tragic murder of the police officer in Blackpool, when sentence was passed on the people involved the newspapers contained such headlines as "Sewell—30-year sentence", in almost every case. The minimum will come to be looked upon as the sentence imposed. Of course, Home Secretaries and those responsible will always do their duty, but it will become increasingly more difficult and against the pressure and clamour to detain people in prison beyond the period recommended by the judge because many people will say that he should not serve a period longer than that which the judge felt he should serve.
What will be done where the judge has doubts whether a prisoner can ever safely be released? The Criminal Law Revision Committee posed that question and pointed out that for the judge to recommend that a man should never be released raises important considerations of how that man can be successfully detained in prison when all hope of the possibility of release has been removed. What will be the effect on the prison staff who have to cope with a man who knows that he has nothing to lose whatever he may choose to do? There is also the question of whether requiring recommendations on minimum periods of imprisonment would have a substantial deterrent effect. To date it has been used in heinous cases, but if judges were required to use it in every case sentences of life imprisonment would be imposed with a recommendation of three, five or seven years. Will that enhance the deterrent effect of the life sentence? Will it enhance and sharpen the deterrent effect of the recommendation?
I apologise for the length at which I have spoken. My personal assessment of the situation is that I believe that it would be wrong for the whole of Great Britain to ignore or to legislate against the unanimous views of the judges in England and Wales. For the reasons I have given I question whether the proposals would increase the deterrent effect of the sentence. I question whether the effectiveness of the recommendation as it is now used would be enhanced. I question whether, within the English and Welsh context, the feeling of judicial involvement in the release of the prisoner would be increased.
I have no doubt that in practice it would make it more difficult, both for prisons and, indeed, for the present and future Home Secretaries, to keep in prison those who in the interests of the safety of society ought to be required to be kept there, perhaps, for periods many years longer than that which seems appropriate at the moment of the sentence by the judge, looking at it purely on the question of deterrence and the type of offence.
Of course, any matter which raises the question of murder and life sentences is controversial. It raises difficult questions. I intended to attempt to refer to the rest of the Bill, but I shall not do so as it seems that this matter is the kernel of it. There are matters elsewhere in the Bill which any Government would like to consider carefully. But I can say to my hon. Friend that Clause 4 is quite inappropriate for this country. We have and have always had in England and Wales three High Court judges on the parole board, and now also two circuit judges.
We do not have on the board a serving prison officer or a serving police officer, but we have an immediately-retired police officer and an immediately-retired prison officer. I believe that there are arguments of principle on why it could be appropriate that the man who is immediately retired but is still close to the feelings of his colleagues, may be a more appropriate board member than a man actually serving, who may have a clash of interest on many of the cases appearing before the board.
Finally, the Emslie Committee Report and the Criminal Law Revision Committee Report are both most useful documents. They have to be looked at in the context of the background of the penal system of the country about which they were written. Each committee argues its views with skill. It may well be that it would be justifiable to decide that it is appropriate that one should have a different answer on this matter for Scotland than one has for England and Wales. One knows that there are many differences in the legal and penal systems of our countries. But these are weighty issues upon which the Government would wish to have time to reflect, bearing in mind in particular the relatively short period in which it has been possible to assess the effects of the final abolition of capital punishment.
I have inevitably argued, perhaps trying at times to argue fairly strenuously, the case advanced by the Criminal Law Revision Committee. I did so because I thought it important that the House should be aware of the views expressed in that report and in the views of the judges who have been consulted in the process of the report, in deciding whether it is appropriate that the Bill should apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. I am bound to say to my hon. Friend—not because of any disrespect of his motives of attempting to find a greater deterrent to crime—that in view of the arguments I have advanced and the fact that, in the English and Welsh context, a report has so recently rejected the proposal he recommends, I invite the House to reject the Bill.
I am sure that the House is very grateful for the sober and considered view of the Bill which the Minister of State has given and for the figures he has made available to the House. We are also grateful to him for explaining some of the mists that surround the present criticism of the life sentence.
Like the Minister of State, I shall ask my hon. Friends to vote against the Bill. Again like the Minister of State, our paramount consideration is the safety and protection of the public. There is no question of being more concerned about the welfare of the criminal than the welfare of the public. The protection of the public will always be the paramount consideration. We do not underestimate—indeed, we take it extremely seriously—the concern of the House and the public about the rise in violent crime and, when there have been rises, the rise in the number of murders.
Although there is obviously sincere support for the Bill on the basis of its intention to reduce violent crime, I believe, first, that there is no provable correlation between increases in the murder figures and increases in violent crime. Looking at criminal statistics, one is struck time and again by the family nature of violent crime and how it remains very much a family affair. I do not say that flippantly.
In 1971 177 murders were known to the police, and 87 of those were very much family affairs, involving members of the immediate family or lovers. That is not to say that there is not a great deal of concern about the rise in violent crime. During the last six months of the Labour Government, violent crimes, indictable offences known to the police, numbered 18,792. That is a figure which was far too high. In the first six months of 1971 the figure for violent crimes had risen to 21,307, a rise of 13·4 per cent., and for the first six months of 1972 it had risen to 23,706, a rise of 11·3 per cent. So since the last six months of the Labour Government there has overall been a rise of violent crime of about 30 per cent.
I am not comparing the figures for one period of Government with that of another in order to make any party political point. But those people at the last General Election who tried to make a political point about rising crime under a Labour Government ought now to approach the matter with a great deal more humility. There was a suggestion in the Conservative Party manifesto that a Labour Government could not shrug off their responsibility for the rise in crime. No Government can shrug off their responsibility, but equally no Government have any innate or divine capacity for dealing with the rise in crime. Therefore, we must approach the matter with humility, looking not only at the question of penalties but at the causes of crime and the methods by which it may be prevented, as well as the effect of punishment on reducing it.
Everyone would accept the generality of what the hon. Member has said. As he has mentioned the last General Election, surely the point he is making was about restrictions on police recruiting. If he wants to compare the police recruiting figures in, for example, the first and last two years of the Labour Government he will find a considerable difference. That was the point that was being made then; it was not some magical solution to the crime problem.
This is perhaps not the time to debate police recruitment figures. There were very good and very bad years for both Governments. Surely if one looks at the present wastage figures, particularly in the metropolitan force, one sees that the figures are not quite as reassuring as the hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting.
Turning to the subject of death by violence, the indication of a trend is much more difficult to discern. It depends upon how one selects one's statistics.
In England and Wales in 1966 there were 169 murders; in 1971 there were 247. That is an appalling rise. But, taking two other years, one finds that in 1967 200 murders were known to the police—these are uncorrected figures—and in 1970 there were 186. That comparison shows a drop.
The experience is similar in Scotland. In 1966, on the uncorrected figures, there were 30 murders, and in 1971 there were 45. But if one compares the figures for 1967 and 1970 in Scotland, one finds that in 1967 there were 41 murders and in 1970 there were 29. So from the murder figures it is not possible to detect recently a rapid rise. The figures are somewhat irregular from year to year.
When the Minister of State suggested that there had been a fall in the number of murders committed in England and Wales, he was interrupted by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor), who suggested that there had at the same time been a rise in the number of manslaughter cases. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. The application of that argument to Scotland produces a rather different result. The combined figure for Scotland of murder and culpable homicide in 1966 was 86; in 1971, the year about which the hon. Gentleman is particularly concerned, the combined figure was 71. Once again it is difficult to detect from the murder and homicide figures the kind of rise which has caused great concern about figures for violent crimes.
The only conclusion which can be drawn is that the figures are bad. Any figure will be bad. There does not seem to be any provable correlation between sentencing policy and the incidence of the crime of murder.
The danger of the Bill is that it is an exercise—I do not question that it is a well-intentioned exercise—in public relations which brings us no closer to dealing effectively with the problem of violent crime and particularly murder. I agree with the Minister of State that the Bill may well be counter-productive.
We are completely agreed about certain matters as regards the Bill. First, save in the most exceptional circumstances, the punishment for murder must continue to be a mandatory life sentence. Respect for the sanctity of human life demands that this is so and that when a person has taken another's life he surrenders his own life to the community in the sense that he is liable to recall to imprisonment, even if he is released, to the end of his days. There is complete agreement about that.
The second issue on which there is some agreement is that serious consideration should be given to appeals against the recommended minimum period of detention. The reason is that the Home Secretary and the parole board will obviously attach great importance to the judge's recommendation. That being so, inevitably the recommendation becomes an integral part of the sentence and thus should be subject to judicial review
I say that it should be given serious consideration because there are some arguments on the other side. Confirmation of a recommended minimum sentence by the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal might tend to tie the hands of the Home Secretary too rigidly many years later. However, there is agreement that consideration should be given to a review on appeal of the minimum recommendation.
The third matter on which there will be agreement is that a High Court judge should be a member of the parole board. In England three High Court judges and two Circuit judges are members of the parole board. In Scotland, unfortunately perhaps, until November 1972 there was no High Court judge represented on the Scottish Parole Board, but I understand that there were two sheriff representatives.
I suspect that one of the reasons for the views of the Scottish judiciary is that there may well have been a gulf between the Scottish judiciary and the parole board and a lack of confidence and communication. That perhaps will be restored by a decision to have a member of the Scottish High Court as a member of the Scottish Parole Board.
I agree that consideration should be given to having prison officers and police officers as members of parole boards. However, there is a real difficulty about having serving police officers or prison officers on the boards. Considerations of time alone must weigh against such an appointment. There are recently retired members of the prison staff and of the police on the parole board. Consideration will always have to be given to ensuring that those branches of the profession of law-keeping are represented.
There was some suggestion in the speech of the hon. Member for Cathcart that he had no confidence in the parole board. It should be asserted again that parole has been a very successful exercise and that out of 8,000 prisoners who have been recommended for release on parole since 1st April 1968 only 486, or 6 per cent., have been recalled. That is a very good record. I reject the implied criticism of the parole system which has been made in the speeches of some hon. Members.
The fourth area where there is a measure of agreement is that the recommended minimum term of imprisonment is not to be a mandatory part of the sentence; that is, it remains only a recommendation which may ultimately be overridden by the Home Secretary in England or the Secretary of State in Scotland.
Having rehearsed the agreements, I come to the fundamental objection to the Bill; namely, the proposition that in passing a mandatory life sentence there should be a mandatory minimum recommended period of detention. There are two sets of objections, one on the merits and the other on what I would call the test of general acceptability.
On the acceptability argument, firstly, the proposal is opposed and would have been opposed by every Home Secretary since 1965. The right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said in our last debate on this subject that he believed there was without doubt a need for flexibility in these matters. Therefore, the proposal is not acceptable to the present Home Secretary and would not have been acceptable to the former Home Secretary or, indeed, to any Home Secretary since 1965.
The next point on acceptability is that the proposition is unanimously opposed by all the Queen's Bench judges in England, not that Parliament is bound by their view. Parliament must make up its own mind. However, the views of the judges who have to exercise these functions in the courts are not to be lightly disregarded. The proposition is unanimously opposed by the Criminal Law Revision Committee. I have some measure of agreement with the hon. Gentleman's criticism about the composition of the committee, but the proposition is unanimously opposed by that committee. Again, I do not always agree with that committee. There are other issues on which I should find considerable differences with the committee.
Clearly, my hon. Friend and I will not be trapped into defending to the last the composition of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, because in a debate which the House may have on an earlier report of that committee we might welcome some of the things which have been said by hon. Members opposite today. Does my hon. Friend agree that what matters here is not the composition of the committee but the validity of its argument?
I accept that. The committee put the case extremely well. It stated in paragraph 28:
As we have said before in considering the possibility of replacing the indeterminate life sentence by a determinate one, the trial judge may well not have sufficient information available to him at the time of trial to enable him to know what minimum period to recommend. If the trial judge were required to fix a minimum period in every case, he might be put in a position of great difficulty in having to do so in circumstances in which he did not really feel able to determine the appropriate period.
The committee goes on to put arguments against it which I do not repeat.
Some support for this view is found even in the report of the Scottish Criminal Law Revision Committee, paragraph 27 of which says:
It should be clearly understood (i) that the expiry of this minimum period does not mean that the prisoner concerned must then, or at any particular future date, be released on licence and (ii) that the recommendation does not disable the Secretary of State from ordering release before the expiry of any recommended period on the advice of the Parole Board. In the period 1966–71 the Scottish Judiciary made recommendations in eight cases involving ten persons. … In the same period 132 persons received life sentences for murder. The provision has been used therefore in only a small number of cases and it appears that it has been reserved for use only in especially grave circumstances. … No person serving a life sentence with a recommended minimum period of imprisonment has yet been released.
It is strange that the Scottish judges, with two exceptions, should have supported the provision for a mandatory minimum recommended period of detention when in practice, although having the power to make that recommendation, they have not used it. If they felt so strongly on the subject when actually trying cases and passing sentences, why have they not used that recommendation in the past?
The percentage of recommendations in Scotland is 7·8 and in England it has been almost exactly the same, 8 per cent.—42 out of 503 cases. If in Scotland they felt so strongly about it, one would have thought they would have implemented their own recommendation without the necessity for Parliament to do anything further about it, but they have not done so.
If one looks at the behaviour of the judges and at actual experience it seems that the argument of the judges is against a minimum mandatory period and that it must be a very strong argument indeed.
Apart from the acceptability argument, I turn to other merits of the matter. It has been made abundantly clear in this debate that the nine-year average life sentence is a myth. I do not want to repeat the arguments, but in heinous cases the period of detention will be much longer than that. I hope that everybody will try to remove this mythical impression from the public mind and, if it exists at all, from the mind of the criminal classes, too. There are strong safeguards against premature release. A prisoner may be released, but only after the advice of the parole board and the trial judge, but the Minister of State has already pointed out that in eight out of 54 cases of recommended release he did not feel himself able to abide by the advice.
The most important test must be the protection of the public. A mandatory minimum recommended sentence would become regarded as both the minimum and the maximum sentence, and that would not add at all to the protection of the public. There might well be cases in which a man has a short recommended minimum period of detention and then it appears from observation while he is in prison that he is suffering from mental disability, or that his mental ability has deteriorated in prison, and so he is likely to commit an offence again. In those circumstances it would be necessary, for the protection of the public, to keep that man in prison for a very long period. There is great danger in having a mandatory minimum recommended sentence in that it would come to be regarded not just as a minimum but as a maximum as well. Conversely, a sentence which is in substance for life or mandatorily a very long minimum sentence may deprive a man of hope altogether. If a man in prison is deprived of all hope of rehabilitation and all hope of release he is likely to become a danger to the prison officers and to his fellow prisoners and those concerned with law enforcement, and their protection is diminished, and that is not in the interests of the public.
The minimum recommendation as mandatory would have effects which would be quite unwanted, I am sure, even by the sponsors of the Bill. If in every case there is a minimum recommendation there will be some cases where a very short period would be called for by the judges, and that would undoubtedly undermine the confidence of the public in the administration of justice, because it would be seen that in some cases the price of a life would be cheaper than the price or the tariff for a crime against property. It would be unthinkable to have a minimum recommended sentence of three or four years for a murder while at the same time people were being recommended for sentences of imprisonment of 10 years to 15 years for crimes against property, being crimes which involved no violence at all.
Would the hon. Member not accent that people have been released after three or four years, and would he not think it preferable for a sentence to be defined when imposed rather than later and after waiting three or four years?
I am sure that the confidence of the public would be undermined, for how would the public see it? They would see a man sentenced to imprisonment for the rest of his life, for that is the sentence which is passed, and that is the sentence the public see. It is true that such a person may be released after four or five years, but he is subject to recall; but, surely, the impression on the public mind will be that the price of life is only about four years in prison, whereas the price of committing a fraud may be, let us say, 10 or 12 years. I am sure that the confidence of the public would be undermined.
We know from experience that in heinous cases the judges make recommendations. In one case the recommendation was that a man should be detained in prison for the rest of his life. Indeed, I think that the judges in England are more stringent than the judges in Scotland in this respect, and in England the minimum sentence tends to be on the whole rather longer than the minimum sentence in Scotland.
To make the sentence mandatory would undermine the confidence of the public in sentencing policy, and the effect of the Bill would be totally opposite to what is required. If some people are sentenced to short periods of imprisonment and the public reaction demands that the minimum recommended period of detention be exceeded there will be people in prison who will have false hopes. There will be another class of person who will be in prison without any hope at all. I would not have thought that a combination of false hopes and of people being detained in utter hopelessness was a very good basis for penal reform. Furthermore, the Bill might lead to differences of opinion between the judiciary and the Executive, and it would reduce the ability to review sentences and the detention of a prisoner after he has spent a long time in prison. It would have a bad effect on our penal system, and I hope that my hon. Friends and the House will reject the Bill.
On a point of order. May I point out, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we have had five speakers in a row opposing the Bill? Although the Bill has 11 other sponsors, we have not had more than one speech in support of it. In the short time we have left, could that balance be redressed?
I listened with very great care to the cogent and reasoned arguments of my hon. and learned Friend and, indeed, to the speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser), but I must say that I remain unconvinced. I would have thought that, at the very least, because of the widespread public concern in this subject, the House would permit the Bill to go to Committee in order that it could be examined more closely in every particular and so enable us to take a second look at what it proposes.
I support the Bill, and do so for one simple, compelling reason. However one dresses up criminal statistics—and during this debate we have heard a lot about statistics and how to interpret them—it is a plain, hard, cold fact that crime generally and violent crime in particular is increasing. Indeed, the gap between criminal performance in this traditionally law-abiding country, and elsewhere seems to be rapidly closing.
The first duty of Government is to preserve law and order and to protect the lives and property of citizens. That being so, we should note that since the abolition of capital punishment there has been a sharp increase in the number of crimes involving the use of firearms and in the number of killings by shooting. The public believe, the majority of the police believe, and I believe that this increase and the abolition of capital punishment are connected. It has been protested in the debate that seven years is too short a period upon which to base a valid judgment. Many of my constituents would reply that since more and more people are being murdered and assaulted it is long enough. They would say that a little more concern should be expressed, especially in this place for the protection of victims of such crimes and their families rather than for those thugs who, prior to abolition, would have been hanged but who now have to be kept in prison at public expense.
Many of my constituents will say, too, that all this was predictable. Until abolition, the shooting of a policeman or of a witness of identity was, rightly, a capital offence. Anyone who acquired a gun in advance of carrying out a crime, who acquired ammunition, put the ammunition into the gun, took off the safety catch, pointed it at another human being, and used it to avoid being apprehended, was guilty of a cold-blooded, calculated and premeditated murder. Since abolition it has actually paid the hardened criminal to carry a loaded gun and use it to avoid arrest.
Having listened to the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Sir A. Irvine), whose long service in this House and in the law commands respect, I must say that I doubt whether the hardened criminal makes a study of criminal statistics or the rulings of committees of jurists. Such people knew what would happen to them before abolition. They now know that if someone gets in their way and is killed and they are then apprehended they will not hang and will not necessarily serve a longer sentence than if they were charged with armed robbery.
What the hon. Gentleman says may be correct, but this had nothing to do with hanging. It has nothing to do with the Bill. It may be helpful if he would put the case for the Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for trying to force me to consider the Bill in isolation from the facts. I am not talking about statistics; I am talking about the realities of criminal life, about the fears and anxieties of my constituents and those of the hon. Gentleman. I am trying to establish that there is a case for looking long and hard at the proposals contained in the Bill. Indeed, nothing has been said so far to cause the House to throw out the Bill and prevent that long hard look being taken in Committee. In fact, I am the first hon. Member after my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) to be allowed to express a view in favour of the Bill.
May I be permitted, therefore, to continue my argument? At this stage I should perhaps declare an interest. For the last seven years I have served as an adviser to the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales. During that time I have grown to respect very much the views of senior police officers and of the police service generally.
Like the rest of us, senior police officers are divided over the question of capital punishment. Some favour its reintroduction, many do not. Whatever may be their view and that of the police service generally, these men stand in the front line against violent crime. They protect the hon. Gentleman and myself, our families and constituents. They are entitled to the maximum protection that Parliament can provide.
I listened carefully to the Minister of State. He questioned, as all previous speakers opposed to the Bill have done, whether it made the existing deterrent—if it be a deterrent—more effective. I waited in vain to hear him say categorically that he was sure that the present system was effective. True, we are all agreed that the time involved is perhaps too short for any of us to be absolutely certain one way or the other. True, also, the number of police officers murdered in recent years has not risen appreciably although, significantly, the number of assaults on the police has risen dramatically and if this continues the number killed or wounded must inevitably increase. Apart from one intervention no one has made any reference to the fact that it is providential that there has not been a vast increase in the number of killings of police officers as a result of the increased number of assaults.
The police tell me—this is not revealed in the statistics—that the number of times they are being fired at by criminals is rapidly increasing. Surely, we are concerned not only with providing a deterrent to murder but with providing a deterrent to anyone setting out on a course which could lead to murder. If we could by some alchemy persuade the whole criminal class to forgo the use of the gun the effect on criminal statistics might be remarkable but the effect upon law and order generally would be even more dramatic. That aspect has not been considered today by those opposing the Bill.
Whatever view we take of the figures, the murder rate has more than doubled since the end of the Second World War. In 1946 it was 2·10 per million. In 1968, the latest year for which I have figures, it was 4·83 per million. I am sure that it has risen since. That figure must be arrested. The question then is whether the present so-called life sentence for murder is a sufficient deterrent, or whether it is a deterrent at all. My hon. and learned Friend certainly had some doubts about this and I ask the House to note that. He did not say that in his judgment the present arrangements provided a satisfactory deterrent against the rising tide of violent crime.
It could be argued that since it is only seven years since judges were first able to recommend that a murderer would serve so many years before being released on licence, insufficient time has elapsed to allow anyone to answer the question with certainty. But the Home Secretary of the day can ignore a recommendation. The fact that he has done so only once since June 1970 is in some ways a great comfort. But it can happen, and it may happen in the future. That is what the Bill is all about. But against that there are types of murderers whom the public and the police believe should serve a life sentence.
The pointer here may be provided by the case of Mr. Donald Hume, the Essex marshes killer. He killed and dropped the dismembered body of a Mr. Stanley Setty by aeroplane over the Essex marshes. He was charged with murder and convicted of being an accessory, and he served 12 years. He was a model prisoner, and immediately upon his release he carried out several armed robberies of bank premises in London. He was not apprehended in this country but was finally convicted of another murder in Switzerland, where, I have no doubt, he is a model prisoner working for an early release so that he can kill once more. We have to realise that anyone who kills in this category is an unusual person, whatever the circumstances. I am anxious to ensure that that sort of thing can never happen again. Surely society is entitled to real protection against men of this type. Capital punishment was a unique deterrent to murder by the professional criminal and I cannot see that it has been replaced by any effective deterrent.
There is evidence—and this is why I support the Bill—that abolition has encouraged the use of firearms by the professional criminal. I recognise immediately that the Bill may be imperfect in many particulars, but my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart undertook that if the Bill could go to Committee he would consider any reasonable amendments. If it were to be argued that one weakness is that it puts on the judges a burden in respect of types of murder which they might not be able to accept in the light of the short period since the final abolition of capital punishment, I for one and, I am sure, my hon. Friend would accept an amendment to limit the provisions of Clause 1 to those categories of murder which have clear implications for the public—that is to say, killing by shooting, killing as a result of armed robbery, the shooting of police officers or of witnesses to identity or of prison warders.
It would not be difficult to prescribe such cases. What is more, I believe that that would meet with the general approval of the public, and certainly of the police, who have every right to feel growing concern at the rising tide of violent crime. I hope, therefore, that the House, in spite of the genuine differences of opinion on both sides, will, because of the importance of the subject, give the Bill a Second Reading and enable Parliament to take a much closer look at the whole question.
It was refreshing to hear the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) introduce some reality into the debate.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) on introducing the Bill and enabling the subject to be raised, because it is one causing great worry to the general public. It is probably the greatest worry that the vast majority of people in this country have. We have now reached the stage in our cities, and possibly elsewhere, where people are not merely frightened to walk along back streets but are frightened to walk along the High Street because they are in danger of losing their lives, in danger of being physically attacked and maimed. Such incidents happen day after day. Listening to certain other hon. Members, I began to wonder whether my constituency was an odd place, different from anywhere else in the country. They did not seem to be particularly concerned about what was going on or about the ordinary person's worries.
The hon. Member for Cathcart said at the start that the Conservative Party gave a pledge during the last General Election campaign that action would be taken to curb violent crime. After listening to the Minister I can say only that that pledge was about as useful as the pledges which were given by the present Prime Minister at the same time about curing unemployment and reducing prices. The Minister was able to offer neither hope nor encouragement about Government action. There was no programme, no proposal—nothing. He appeared satisfied that crime, including the most serious crime, should continue to increase. The hon. Member for Cathcart must be very sorry now that he decided to compromise on his true wish, and mine, too, to see an effective deterrent brought back, because the only effective deterrent is not the one contained in the Bill. This was the compromise where we thought we were accepting half a loaf instead of a whole loaf. It is now clear that we shall not get even a slice of bread.
The figures for Britain, and for Scotland, in particular, show clearly that the abolition of capital punishment has increased dramatically the murder and manslaughter rate and the level of serious crime. The figures show that in Scotland the number of people convicted of murder in 1961 was four. In the following consecutive years the figures were: eight, three, nine, 15 and 22. Then, following the abolition of capital punishment, they were: 26, 26, 22, 22, and 40.
Will my hon. Friend agree that the figures he has quoted illustrate exactly that an increase was taking place but that after the abolition of capital punishment they remained almost the same? Secondly, will my hon. Friend bear in mind the judicial change that has occurred as a result of the abolition of capital punishment?
I am always amazed at the interpretation that Ministers and ex-Ministers can put on figures. The figure for 1961 showed that there were four convictions for murder in Scotland. In 1971 the number was 40. That demonstrates the trend as clearly as anything can. It is also demonstrated in every official publication that emerges, and I have studied them all. There is a very clear indication that not only murders but all the serious crimes which could easily be murders——
—have increased, and I defy any hon. Member to say that that is not a worry to a substantial number of his constituents. It is certainly a substantial worry in my constituency, where there have been more murders in the last two or three years than we ever thought might be possible. I do not believe that situation to be peculiar to my city alone, although it is possible that it is a little worse there than elsewhere. The increase in Scotland is certainly worse than the figure in England and Wales, but the trend is evident in both countries. No amount of talking or distortion of figures can disguise it, for the figures are clear.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cathcart decided to compromise, because all those who compromise eventually find that they alienate a great deal of support when people realise that they have not gone far enough. The hon. Gentleman should have stuck to his guns. Had he done so he would have achieved the results which he wants to see.
Over a long period of time in Scotland the number of convicted murderers hanged has averaged one in every two years, but the number of victims of murder—and there is an important difference to be borne in mind between the difference in the number of murderers and the number of victims—has averaged 40 every two years. We have reached a situation that in saving the lives of one convicted murderer we are losing the lives of 40 innocent people. Certain hon. Members may not like it, but that is the equation.
That sort of argument has been advanced time and again. If my hon. and learned Friend knows how to detect more murderers, I should be pleased to hear his proposals and to support them.
Would not the hon. Gentleman, who is making an excellent speech, agree that one way of detecting more murderers is to give more encouragement to those who stand in the front line against crime; namely, the police?
I am coming to that point. It used to be the fashion for criminals not to carry guns, but times have changed. Criminals not only carry guns but use them. This may not be shown up to any great degree in the statistics, but those of us who are in touch with reality know that this practice is increasing and will continue to increase.
It has been clearly proved that by abolishing the deterrent of capital punishment we have encouraged criminals to carry guns. They are no longer carrying them for fun or only as a threat, but are carrying them and using them to get out of a tight corner. The one way to discouraging them from carrying guns is to restore capital punishment.
In debates of this nature we hear repeated arguments about the majority of murders being mainly family affairs, perpetrated by a man against his wife or his children and all the rest of it. We see from the official figures that this is a myth. The vast majority of people who commit murders are known criminals who have committed other offences.
If we look at a document issued by the Home Department entitled "Murder 1957 to 1968", we see on page 92, in a section relating to Scotland, that the number of people who commited murder without having had previous convictions totalled 39. We also see that murderers with one previous conviction totalled eight, those with two previous convictions totalled 12, those with three to 10 previous convictions totalled 41, and those with above 10 previous convictions totalled 27. That was the situation in 1968. Everybody who is in touch with reality knows that the present position is far worse. Up-to-date figures would be far more convincing than anything which occurred up to 1968.
Everybody knows that there are more crimes perpetrated for theft and similar purposes than in previous periods for which we have the relevant statistics. This is a known fact. It probably will be three or four years before this situation is thrown up by the statistics, but we cannot afford to ignore the fears and apprehensions of our constituents and the dangers which they face. We cannot afford to do nothing about the situation until four years' time when we shall know the statistics of the increased number of victims. We must do something about the situation now. We must take steps to achieve effective deterrents.
I do not believe that the Bill will be an effective deterrent, but I am influenced by the fact that the Police Federation considers this Bill to be at least a step in the right direction. It may be a small step, but it is going the right way. If the police are convinced of this, then surely this warrants this measure being sent to Committee for examination. I say this despite the view taken by both Front Benches. We must not ignore the fears of ordinary people and the position of policemen who have to deal with these situations.
My mind goes back to a case in my constituency where a man held up a schoolteacher and a class of pupils. It is all very well for hon. Members in this House to make pronouncements on these issues, for we do not have to deal with that kind of situation. It is policemen who are expected to deal with it. We throw the onus on them to cope. Yet we refuse to give them what they consider to be at least a slightly better form of protection than that which they now possess. If the House refuses to allow this Bill to go into Committee, ordinary people and the police will take it as a slap in the face to their opinions and worries.
Before I deal with the points so admirably raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), I should like to add my congratulations on the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) introduced the Bill. I deeply sympathise with the motives lying behind the Bill, for no hon. Member who is in touch with his constituency can be in the least doubt that there is deepest disquiet among the public about the state of the law and the way in which it deals with violence—and especially with what the Criminal Law Revision Committee called widespread public concern about the penalty for murder.
My hon. Friend said that he wanted the law to produce a shiver of fear in people who were about to contemplate a crime like murder. I am sure that every hon. Member would agree with that view. I do not believe—I say this with the greatest respect to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State—that a mere display, examination and explanation of statistics will satisfy the public.
I think that we have to go beyond that. We have to show not only that we care but that we are prepared to do something, and I beg my hon. and learned Friend to pay attention to the feeling which I believe is being expressed on both sides of the House today, and which is present in the country at large, that there should be an examination of the problem—and it is a serious one—with which the Bill attempts to deal. I feel so strongly that the law needs examination and reform in this respect that I wish dearly that my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart, had hit upon a solution that could be seen to be and was, indeed, effective, and one which I could support.
I think we all agree that life imprisonment as a sentence for murder is an inadequate deterrent. I think we all agree that the abolition of the death penalty in 1965 left in the penal system a vacuum which the sentence of life imprisonment has failed to fill adequately. I believe that one of the most serious of the defects and anomalies in our penal system is the present and only punishment for murder, that of life imprisonment. I think it is agreed by everyone, and certainly it is a conclusion of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, that it does not mean what it says. It is a false name, because it does not mean imprisonment for life, and I am glad that the committee has suggested that another title should be given to it. A similar recommendation was made by the Emslie Committee.
It is a mandatory sentence, and it is an unjust sentence, because it deprives the trial judge of the right to impose any form of sentence other than life imprisonment. The Criminal Law Revision Committee recognises that there are what might be described as mercy killings, where, for example, a husband kills his wife who is in the last stages of some terrible disease, or a mother kills her child who is born deformed. In such cases it is preposterous—the Criminal Law Revision Committee says it is odious—that a sentence of life imprisonment should be imposed upon the killer. I believe that thereby the committee has opened the way for the argument, which I support, that in proper cases there ought to be a power in the court of trial to impose a sentence other than life imprisonment.
The logic of the present situation does not bear examination. If somebody kills unlawfully and the killing is found to be manslaughter the offence comes under the Offences against the Persons Act 1861 and the court, at its discretion, can sentence the offender to life imprisonment or to any other penalty that appears appropriate. If that can be done for manslaughter I cannot for the life of me see why it cannot be done in the case of murder.
Those who argue that there ought to be bigger and better punishments have a great deal of sound common sense on their side, but we ought to ask ourselves why we want to punish people. One of the fundamental reasons why punishment is necessary and beneficial to society is that it is aimed at preventing the person who has committed the offence from committing it again, and it is also there to deter others from following his example. It is the "shiver of fear" to which my hon. Friend referred.
I should like a new philosophy to be brought into our penal system. I do not believe that punishment is by any means as important as the protection of society. I regard that as of paramount importance. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) has asked me to say that he regrets having had to leave the House earlier than he wanted to. He wishes to thank my hon. and learned Friend for the assurance that the protection and safety of the public will he paramount. I wanted, on his behalf, to acknowledge that.
There is a distinction—and it is made in the Criminal Law Revision Committee's Report—between the effects of life imprisonment and the determinate sentence. The determinate sentence is one which, when it finishes, leaves the State with no control over the person who had been sent to prison. As the law stands if, for murder, there is to be an alternative sentence in the form of a determinate sentence, once the sentence has been served the person is at large. There is no power to detain him further, to supervise him, or to recall him on licence.
One of the things that went before the Committee dealing with the Criminal Justice Bill was a suggestion that a determinate sentence could, in certain circumstances, be converted at some stage into a sentence of life imprisonment, or that the power contained in a sentence of life imprisonment to recall for life could be imposed—for example in cases involving serious violence—on a sentence which the trial judge said had to finish after so many years, thereby getting, as it were, the best of both sentences.
What the House has to realise, and what the country does realise, is that the borders between murder, manslaughter and grievous bodily harm are easily crossed. There can be precisely the same degree of violence amounting to murder, to manslaughter or, where the victim survives as a result of what my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) referred to as skilled surgery, to grievous bodily harm. The degree of violence can be the same in each case. The need to protect society can be the same in each case, and I believe that we ought now to be directing our minds towards some means of making as certain as we can that where there is an element of vicious violence in a man or woman, and where a crime—or repeated crimes—of violence shows this to be so, the benefits of the sentence of life imprisonment—and there are benefits—are extended to such people, so that the maximum protection can be given to the public.
Alas, I do not find in the Bill the deterrent which I know my hon. Friend is seeking and which I hoped to find in his suggestions. If we are to have a mandatory recommendation of the kind proposed by the Bill the judges will have to make—and there will be those who will not want to do it—recommendations of three or four years. They will be short recommendations, which will no doubt, be contemporary with other recommendations that are dramatically long. If, as my right hon and learned Friend said, the headlines go up describing a four-year sentence for murder—of course, it would not be a sentence but only a recommendation—that will not deter. In fact, I believe that it will encourage.
Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that there was a great deal of merit in the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) when he suggested that in Committee we might ensure that the recommendations apply specifically to the more dastardly type of crime?
I am all for an opportunity to debate such matters. However, I am bound to say that in the more heinous offences of murder the judges need no encouragement to recommend long periods during which they say the convicted person should be kept in prison before there is any question of release.
I fear that the Bill would make it necessary for every judge, in every case—save in exceptional circumstances that might arise to prevent it—to make a recommendation of four, five, or 10 or 15 years, as the case may be. We must also bear in mind the danger that if the trial judge upon whom this onerous burden would be placed suspected that there was some mental instability in the person before him he might feel impelled, because of his duty to protect the public, to make a recommendation far in excess of what was required by the case. On the other hand, time and again he would be making recommendations that would be far below the level at which they would amount to a deterrent.
My hon. and learned Friend has said clearly that judges need no encouragement to use minimum recommendations, and already do so in the case of heinous murder. Does my hon. and learned Friend think it appropriate that in only 8 per cent. of the life sentences imposed since 1965 a recommendation has been made? Does he consider that only 8 per cent. of murders can be classified as heinous?
I could not say that. I should not like to answer that question. However, I am not evading it. The trial judge is in a unique position. I do not think that we can reproduce his knowledge or even decide what the state of his knowledge was at the trial by looking at the statistics. I am satisfied that recommendations have been made in the case of really bad murders by people who clearly should be kept out of society for a long time. I agree that the statistics indicate that they are few. They are dramatic recommendations which attract the full impact of publicity and provide the most effective deterrent.
If we are to rely only upon life imprisonment, as apparently we are for the moment, I hope that the Government will take it upon themselves either to encourage the Criminal Law Revision Committee to come to its final conclusions—after all, the Twelfth Report is only a provisional report—as quickly as possible, and, having come to its conclusions, as soon as possible to let the House have an opportunity to debate the matter. If need be, if we are agreed that the conclusions are sensible and effective, we can begin as soon as possible a process of implementing by law the proposals that are put forward.
I find myself substantially in agreement with the reasoning which the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) has enunciated so clearly. I could not help feeling that we were less in agreement in our emotional reactions to the proposals contained in the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the public felt strongly on these issues. However, I do not think that there is anything in the make-up of politicians which immunises them from the same kind of emotional pressures. Indeed, we have seen some of them today.
It is not surprising that this is a highly emotive subject. We all react with horror to horrible murders. But most hon. Members would be just as horrified at the proposal to destroy another human being by way of retaliation. So it is a subject on which we all tend to be dogmatic. We all adduce evidence in support of our cases, but I sometimes wonder whether, if it were shown that our evidence was unreliable, we would alter our conclusions, or merely alter the ground on which we argued the case.
It is natural that we should take up our positions strongly. On the one hand, there are those who feel strongly a sympathy for the victim and his family. They would clearly like to help, and, of course, there is nothing obviously helpful which they can do. Therefore, their energy, sympathy and indignation tend to be channelled into demanding that those with responsibility should pay the heaviest possible penalties. On the other hand, there are those of us who are sickened by what sometimes appear to be ritual public sacrifices. We are sometimes so sickened that we tend to find our sympathy for a murderer disproportionately inflated.
I suspect that one of the strongest arguments against excessive sentences is that public sympathy is sometimes swung towards law-breakers, and driven away from where it should properly lie. It was reported on the occasion of a famous execution that a little girl was heard to murmur, "Poor Doctor Crippen." That is something which we might all take to heart. Both positions are understandable, but I suspect that possibly neither of them has a great deal to do with rational argument.
I make no secret of the fact that I take the second position. I am very much against the formalisation of the blood feud, against the suggestion that somehow the world is made better by destroying two people instead of one. Admittedly, that governs my immediate reaction to the Bill. However, I should not claim to argue that view as a theorem.
It is important that we should all examine our motives in the positions which we take up so strongly. If it transpired that our evidence was wrong, would we alter our conclusions? The hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival), in the course of an intervention, suggested that many persons opposed to capital punishment were opposed to it on the ground that it was inhuman. If he was suggesting that they were opposed to it irrespective of any evidence that could be adduced that would be less than fair. No one ever felt more strongly on the subject than the former hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, Mr. Sydney Silverman, yet he rested his case clearly on the evidence and indicated that he was prepared to alter it if the evidence were shown to be different from that which he apprehended. Mr. Silverman said on 21st December, 1964:
The only point about deterrents, and, I think, the only rational ground on which a death penalty could ever be defended, is that there are fewer murders if we do have the death penalty than if we do not have the death penalty. That is the criterion and the test"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December 1964; Vol. 704, c. 882.]
Mr. Silverman was prepared to say that about the death penalty, and the same criteria must apply to this Bill.
If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) rests his case on the clear criterion of whether the proposal is going to save potential victims of murder, we have a point from which we can begin to debate. However, I was not clear from his speech whether he does so or not. I think that there were moments when he swung towards that, but other speeches indicate that there are others who believe simply in hitting criminals harder, that barbarism neutralises barbarism. With that point of view we cannot even debate. To demand that the wrongdoer should pay a penalty to the last drop may be good for those who make the demand and make them feel better, but they can hardly be surprised if the rest of us find it less than convincing.
So we turn to the evidence. I begin with the case of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. I was waiting for the hon. Gentleman to explain where he thought the reasoning of that committee broke down. He attacked the composition of the committee instead. As I said earlier, I would not seek to defend the composition of the committee. There may be other occasions when I would regret anything I said on that subject in this debate. But it is important to point out that this is only a consideration if we are discussing someone's gut reaction. The report of the committee was not gut reaction but a carefully reasoned case. To attack it on any ground other than that the reasoning is inaccurate is beside the point.
The hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate that what he was hoping to see were more cases in which the public heard a minimum recommendation of 20 or even 30 years' imprisonment. Even granted the other steps in his argument, it would be valid only if there are, in fact, more cases where that kind of sentence is appropriate, assuming that his Bill becomes law. He and other hon. Members agree that recommendations for short sentences do not provide any kind of deterrence so we should have evidence to indicate that most murders would normally merit sentences of 20 or 30 years. But we have not heard a word about such evidence. When the hon. Gentleman was speaking on this point, he indicated that he had read the statistics showing that at the moment the majority of murderers have served sentences considerably less than 20 or 30 years. We have also heard what the Minister of State has said about those figures. But, granted that these statistics indicate what the hon. Gentleman suggests they do, what follows? He suggested that the judges are making insufficient use of their discretion.
That is what the hon. Gentleman implied. An alternative inference from the same facts was suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin)—that there may be a relatively small number of murders where sentences of 20 to 30 years are appropriate. Which of these is the correct inference is guesswork. I do not know of any statistics to help decide which is the correct inference.
I have come across little evidence that the judges are being unduly lenient in the exercise of their discretion, or that they are over-reluctant to use it. The fair inference is that judges who have had the best opportunity of looking in detail at the facts of each case have come to the conclusion that there are relatively few murders where that kind of minimum sentence recommendation would be appropriate.
Of course, it is possible that judges are somewhat reluctant to use their powers because they recognise their own limitations. It is very difficult on the evidence before one today to predict what the situation is going to be in the case of a particular prisoner in 15 years' time. We have heard nothing in the debate which would indicate to us that judges are wrong in taking that view, and that, for any reason, they might be in a position to exercise their power more frequently with any degree of accuracy. Nor have I heard anything to indicate that the prospect of a short sentence is less than an appropriate deterrent.
I find it hard to believe that a criminal embarking upon a crime says to himself "I do not think it matters very much. I am not going to hang now. I can only go to prison." I do not think that criminals figure that way normally, or that a criminal says "I do not think I shall go to prison for 20 or 30 years. I am only sacrificing the next 10 years of my life." It is tempting to produce that sort of assertion as though it were established but there is no evidence for it. Yet it always produces a cheer.
It is true that we have heard again and again reference to the fact that crimes involving offensive weapons are on the increase, as though this had relevance to the Bill. The Times Leader has already indicated that the statistics on this leave certain questions unanswered. But let us assume that they prove what the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) assumes they do. The Government have increased the maximum penalties for carrying firearms, which is a rational reaction. What I have not grasped at the moment is the relevance to these proposals in the Bill.
Surely the very great increase in crimes of violence and in crimes committed with firearms must be seen as a consequence of the abolition of the death penalty, because those who go out to commit crimes with firearms are in danger of killing when they do so. Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman, with his experience of the law, knows that, however many non-calculating criminals there may be, there are a number who calculate the risks very carefully.
There is an old fallacy post hoc, ergo propter hoc, and the vehemence with which the hon. and learned Gentlemen claims that the increase must be the consequence of abolition does not carry his argument any further. He has not produced any evidence for it.
We are dealing with the question whether the judge should be compelled to impose a minimum sentence, or make a recommendation for a minimum period, rather than that he should merely be allowed to do so. Would not my hon. and learned Friend agree that on this point of deterrence the real question is whether anyone is more likely to be deterred from committing an offence of this character if he knows that the judge has to recommend a minimum sentence rather than if he knows that the judge is allowed to do so?
I agree. I was trying to suggest that not only is that step in the argument not proved but even assuming that it was proved, that criminals knew that crimes would be visited with longer sentences, the next step is not established either. Even if we put the case that the effect of the Bill would be that more murderers would serve longer sentences—which does not follow-1 am not sure that it would prove an effective deterrent. There is great danger of allowing ourselves to be carried away by a caricature of the calculating criminal.
One of the best examples appeared in The Times of 14th October 1971 when reporting a speaker at the Conservative Party conference, who was accorded loud cheers for the comment:
Unless we make prisons places where criminals do not like to go they will fill up more and more.
I am not persuaded by this idea of criminals being so enamoured of short sentences that they will queue up to qualify.
From the beginning of penal reform, certainly from 1880, there has been a cry at almost every stage that lower sentences, less harsh ways of treating offenders, will produce an outbreak of crime of unparalleled proportions—that every poor man will rush to steal a sheep if he is not disembowelled. It is a dangerous caricature, and becomes even more dangerous when it is formalised as a step in a detailed argument of this kind.
The test is brief. Would the proposals in the Bill save one potential victim of crime? Would they in any way reduce the number of murders? So far we have heard nothing to indicate that that is so. Until we do I am not convinced that any purpose would be served by discussing the details of the Bill in Committee. If the basic reason for the Bill is not approved, the Committee stage will do no more than clutter up the Committees of this House, which are already overworked.
If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart and his supporters are serious, they might think of some of the other perhaps more obvious ways in which we might reduce the amount of crime in this country.
I have met a large number of murderers professionally. There are not many generalisations that one can make about them. There is no one reason why people commit murder, and probably no one way of deterring them. Some of them began in the kind of environment from which, with a little help, they might have been removed at an early stage. Some began with broken families which might never have been broken if appropriate help had been available at the right moment. Others reacted to situations which, if the authorities had been more available to them, might never have arisen. These would appear to indicate ways in which we might practically protect the public from crime. Of course, one other obvious way is to bring the police force up to strength and make sure that it is provided with all the modern devices which science has made available.
If we are considering ways of protecting the public, I believe we ought to be on our guard against doing things which on their face appear to be commendably active but are not shown to be effective, and to look for ways which are more likely to reduce the number of murders.
Having so pointedly been asked to be brief, I will be as brief as I can.
The hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) suggested that we should be considering the underlying social conditions. I should point out that probably more time has been spent in this Parliament considering and trying to deal with the underlying social conditions than in any other Parliament since the time of Disraeli.
Crime and violence are with us now. We must deal with the situation as it is while waiting for the improvements in social conditions to take hold. I cannot help feeling that this is one occasion when our colleagues from Scotland have so much more clearly captured the need of the country than their English colleagues. I believe they have got precisely the mood that I hear again and again not only in my constituency but in other constituencies in which I speak.
People are desperately worried about this problem, and they do not accept the somewhat supercilious remark by the hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton that it is a matter of putting barbarism against barbarism. They want protection and deterrence.
I was interested when my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, comparing the two reports with which we are concerned, said that the two committees came to the same conclusion on many issues. That, to my simple mind, implies that it is even more important to pay attention to matters on which they differ because it shows how strongly they felt on these points.
My hon. and learned Friend, quoting from the report, paragraph 22, said that
the imposition of the life sentence is the only practicable way of safeguarding the public aganist the compulsory release of one who may still remain a menace to society.
We are not asking for the compulsory release of someone; we are trying to ensure the safety of the public by keeping in reserve the life sentence while within it having a minimum which must be served.
The Minister has remarked, as have other hon. Members, including the hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton, that there are two fallacies in the figures we are discussing: the fallacy that it is possible to draw deductions and averages from cases which include crimes committed before the abolition of capital punishment and from the actual sentences served by prisoners who have been released already, because some of them would overlap with the period before capital punishment was abolished. That is so, but the important point is the strong impression in the public mind.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who unfortunately is not present, wrote an interesting article about this matter headed,
But thugs have not been getting off lightly.
In that article he said:
We have so far misled ourselves into thinking that the criminal gets off lighter now, but we have also misled a fair proportion of the potentially criminal population into believing it too".
That, to my mind, is the serious point.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) said that if we insist on a minimum sentence being specified by judges, except in exceptional circumstances, we shall have headlines "Killer gets four years" I do not accept that. The Press are very responsible in these matters.
If someone were sentenced to only four years, the chances are that it would be for a so-called mercy killing. At the time that sentence was given the facts would be well before the public. However, at some future time if the sentence were to be reduced the facts would not be before the public.
There is also the fact in the criminal's mind today that some judges palpably give much sterner sentences than others. Therefore, if minimum sentences were to be specified in all cases they might fear that they would come before one of these fierce judges and get a minimum sentence from him which was much worse than they might get from another judge.
I particularly regret the short duration of this extremely important debate if it terminates the Bill today. Last year I had the honour to serve, as did many others of my hon. Friends, on the Standing Committee of the Criminal Justice Act, as it now is. We begged the Secretary of State to pursuade the Criminal Law Revision Committee to produce an interim report, but it was impossible at the time. We asked, therefore, if it might be forthcoming on Report. On Report the then Home Secretary informed us that the committee had not been able to produce an interim report. Emslie came out so fortuitously that we have got an interim report just before this Bill is debated, and we have had very little time to consider it and draw conclusions from it.
It is important for the morale of the police force to be maintained. One policeman said to me "You can run from a knife, but you cannot run from a bullet." The more criminals carry guns today the more they will do to teach themselves how to use them more effectively. It is vital that we consider this question far more carefully than we have had a chance of doing on one Friday morning when some hon. Members are unavoidably absent. I beg the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
I offer my thanks to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) for giving the House the opportunity to discuss penal reform.
The House is grateful also to the Minister of State for his very good speech, in which he gave figures of the incidence and categories of murders that are committed. He also dealt very well with the point made by the hon. Member for Cathcart, that he is anxious that certain sentences shall be imposed on those who kill policemen in the course of duty by saying that such sentences are already imposed by learned judges. My conclusion is that the Bill confuses the issue and adds nothing to the present state of the administration of justice.
Although the hon. Member for Cathcart mentioned "deterrence" at least four times, he offered no evidence to show that the Bill would provide any deterrence. In saying that he had in mind terms of imprisonment of 20 or 30 years, he gave no evidence of research anywhere in the world which showed that sentences of this severity acted as a deterrent. There is a fallacy in the argument about deterrence. When capital punishment was in force for murder, murders were still committed. Going back a little further in history, when hands were cut off for stealing, stealing continued. We have to accept that we cannot legislate for actions that human beings are likely to take in a given set of circumstances.
All hon. Members who have spoken have expressed concern about the increase in crime generally and the increase in crimes of violence in particular. Various suggestions have been made for dealing with this. I am surprised that neither the hon. Member for Cathcart nor his supporters have said a word about what is likely to happen to people who are condemned to long periods of imprisonment. Only my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) mentioned penal reform briefly. What the general public are concerned about is what happens to long-term prisoners once they are sentenced. Hon. Members who have visited prisons know that the treatment of both long-term and short-term prisoners is a matter of great concern to all who are interested in penal reform. This country is not in the vanguard of penal reform.
Some of our prisons are antiquated, over-crowded, smelly and outmoded. Prison officers spend 25 per cent. of their time on locking and unlocking doors instead of doing the job which they are anxious to do, which is the rehabilitation of prisoners. We need to pay much more regard to the activities in prison workshops which pass for work. Large numbers of prisoners still work for as little as two hours a day. Much more concern should be shown by the Secretary of State in the reorganisation of prison industry to ensure that prisoners serving long sentences are given purposeful work to do.
If prison sentences are to assist in the rehabilitation of prisoners more attention must be paid to the training of inadequates—and most prisoners are inadequate in one way or another. There is a need for training to enable them to do a job when they are released. That does not happen today.
Figures that were given three days ago show that of more than 33,000 prisoners received into custody in England and Wales last year on varying sentences—including the long-term prisoners we have been discussing today—well over half had served a previous sentence of imprisonment. Prison as it is at present is not a deterrent. The way in which we treat offenders once they arc in prison does nothing to assist rehabilitation or to contribute to the future life of the offender.
The work that prison officers and prison psychiatric and medical services can do for rehabilitation is inadequate because of understaffing. Social work is extremely limited, and there is no compulsion on a discharged offender to seek guidance from a social worker, probation officer or any other organisation. Society falls down drastically in the care and treatment of offenders once they are released from prison. There are far too few hostels, and far too few people are concerned about the future conduct of discharged offenders who are thrown on their own resources with inadequate provision, and in many cases no provision, being made for them.
Most people agree that ten years is probably the longest time that a man can stay in prison without suffering severe damage to his personality. It would need a very strong character to survive 10 years in prison and be a reasonable and balanced person at the end of such a sentence.
There has been a good deal of concern about the general question of discipline in prisons, particularly where long-term and short-term prisoners are mixed together. I am fairly certain, as I think are psychiatrists and people of that kind who are concerned with offenders, that much of the unrest within prisons comes from the kind of frustrations which have to be endured by long-term prisoners. It is not only the long-term prisoners but also the high security risk, category A prisoners who have this problem. The category A prisoners have no opportunity of being considered for parole for a long time, and no opportunity of home leave as other prisoners have. There is little hope for the long-term prisoner. Life in these circumstances, without hope of parole or of getting out, is bad enough, but if we begin to talk of much longer sentences we have to bear in mind the effect of this on other prisoners, on the prison officers and on all those who work within the prison system.
The other persons who are always involved, of whom we hear too little when we talk about criminals and the victims of crime, are the other victims, the families of those sentenced to long periods of imprisonment. If we are to consider long terms of imprisonment—I accept fully that there are those who are sentenced who will require for the sake of society very long terms—we must consider what will happen not only to those sentenced but to their families. We do not do that enough at present.
In that connection, we have to look at the provisions we make for wives and families to visit, and at the opportunities provided for a reasonable amount of privacy so that whatever it is that the wife wants to discuss with her husband, she is able to discuss it without being overheard and overlooked all the time by a prison officer.
Although I supported the abolition of capital punishment for murder, I feel very strongly that we did not give enough thought to what was to happen to those given an alternative to capital punishment.
Finally, modern research in many countries has come to the conclusion that one way of solving overcrowding in prisons is to reduce the sentences, and that one way of rehabilitating offenders who have committed serious crimes is also to reduce the sentences. I have in mind that at the end of last year a report was published in Holland after a long investigation of offenders who had served varying sentences for different kinds of crimes. It came to the conclusion that there was no connection between the severity of sentence and the incidence of crime. The learned judge who reported on the matter said that the only link there was, if there was one at all, was the chance of detection and the incidence of crime.
That leads one to the conclusion that if we are to deter we need better methods of detection. This means building up the police force and looking very much more carefully and more urgently at what we do with long-term offenders once they are in prison.
I hope that the House will forgive me for making a short intervention in the debate.
As the House will appreciate, the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) is promoting proceeds on the basis of the recommendations of the Emslie Committee—a committee which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself set up in 1970. As its recommendations have been the subject of discussion and, indeed, of criticism, both by the Criminal Law Revision Committee and by hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am grateful for the opportunity of making a short intervention.
I want briefly to explain the history of the Emslie Committee. The House will remember that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), when Home Secretary, made a remit to the Criminal Law Revision Committee in about March, 1970, to consider this problem of the life sentence and what changes, if any, ought to be made. We in Scotland felt, rightly or wrongly—I think rightly—that that would not do, and that we had to have our own investigation against the background of our own problems and against the background, for that matter, of our own judicial system.
I take this opportunity of expressing the Government's appreciation to Lord Emslie and his committee for the very careful report they submitted and for the work they did.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) described as "realistic" the attitude of Scottish Members to the problem of crime. I hope that on this matter as on others their attitude will be realistic.
We in Scotland are perhaps more conscious of the problem of crime than are our colleagues in England and Wales. One knows that statistics vary from year to year and that murder statistics in isolation are subject to all kinds of comments and criticisms, some of which have already been adduced in this debate. However, whatever may be said about statistics, looking at the matter broadly—I think in particular of what the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) said—it is regrettably true that the incidence of crimes of violence in Scotland, particularly murder and culpable homicide, has shown a distressing and dramatic increase over the last decade.
Taking the number of murder victims per million of the population, in the period 1957–61 the figure for England and Wales was 2·8. As my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office pointed out, the figures in England and Wales are more or less static. The figure for Scotland during that period was exactly the same—2·8. Between 1962 and 1966 the figure for England and Wales fell to 2·7 and that for Scotland rose to 4·9. Between 1967 and 1971 the figure for England rose marginally to 2·9 and that for Scotland rose to 6·8. The same pattern is revealed in the statistics dealing with homicide generally. Therefore, Scottish Members have every reason to be concerned about the level of violent crime and of homicide in Scotland.
The Emslie Report referred at the outset to this general problem and to the fact that a committee set up by the previous Administration—the Committee on Criminal Procedure—was looking, inter alia, into the whole problem a the possession of offensive weapons, which I believe is one of the underlying problems in Scotland—[Interruption.]—not firearms. They are not a serious problem in Scotland, although where the problem of firearms arises it is serious. However, generally speaking firearms are not a problem in Scotland. It is the mindless use of offensive weapons, particularly knives, which constitutes the major problem.
Listening to the debate I have detected two strains on the part of those who support the Bill. First, I have had the impression, which I think is probably shared by many hon. Members—I think it came out clearly in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart—that what some supporters of the Bill want is the reintroduction of the capital penalty. I can understand that point of view, but that is not what we are talking about. I speak as someone who opposed the abolition of capital punishment in general.
My right hon. and learned Friend would be more correct if he said that not only many supporters of the Bill but also many opponents of the Bill, of whom I am one, would think that the abolition of capital punishment was a great mistake.
I have no doubt that that is so. This line of thought has come out, and it is predictable and understandable. It is to the effect—"If we want a real deterrent, we must go back to capital punishment." I say that that is not what the debate is about and not what the Bill is about.
I have gained another impression. It is that there is an attitude something on these lines—"Fair enough. The Bill does not go far enough"—as the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) said—"It is a compromise and, like all compromises, it is unsatisfactory." Others would say, "We are so concerned about the problem of the penalty for murder, for goodness sake let us do something." Again, I can understand that outlook, but that was not the basis of the Emslie Committee's Report, and I would not like hon. Members to support the Emslie Committee's recommendation in that spirit because that was not the spirit in which that committee approached the problem.
As has already been pointed out, there are broad areas of agreement between the two reports, both of which, in my submission, are most valuable, and they have been of great assistance in a debate of this nature. I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart for making this kind of discussion possible. So long as the problem of serious crime is with us in this country—and I see no reason to suppose, I regret to say, that it will not be with us for many years to come—I hope that from time to time Parliament will have the opportunity of directing its attention to this very kind of problem, and for that reason I am very grateful to my hon. Friend.
As I said, there are wide areas of agreement, and one of the interesting results of each of these investigations is this. Both committees have reached the conclusion that mandatory life sentence for murder should be retained. They reject the contention that it should be replaced by a determinate sentence. My hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart, and I myself, for that matter, have from time to time canvassed the idea that this indeterminate sentence should be replaced by a determinate sentence which applies in every other field of crime. I read these two reports with an open mind. I for one tended towards the determinate sentence solution, but I found myself impressed by the joint view of each of these committees that the determinate sentence is not the solution to this problem and that the indeterminate sentence of life sentence is really the only one which satisfactorily resolves the problem of those who commit the most serious crime known in our criminal law.
Equally, of course, and for the same reasons that the Emslie Committee gave, both committees, in rejecting the determinate sentence, rejected the proposition, which also has been canvassed from time to time, that, instead, the recommendation of the presiding judge should be for a minimum period which must be served before the convicted person should be considered for release.
I think that the terms of the Bill may have misled some hon. Members, because the circular, a copy of which I received not so long ago, specified the minimum number of years which must be served. The Bill does not do that, and the Emslie Committee did not recommend that, for the same reasons as it rejected the determinate sentence.
Where the two reports part company, as my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State put it, is on a narrow but none the less important question: should the presiding judge only and very occasionally, and in exceptional circumstances, make a recommendation, or, as the Scottish Committee recommended, should it be the normal practice, exceptional cases apart?
The Criminal Law Revision Committee adduced a number of reasons why the existing arrangements should be adhered to and many of those reasons have been advanced today. The very fact that there are arguments to and fro on this matter indicates that it is something about which the Government, who have ultimate responsibility in this field, must require time, in order to consider both of these reports in the light of the different judicial systems to which they relate.
I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster said on this matter because I think she put her finger on some of the significance of the Emslie Committee's recommendation. Some of the criticisms which have been adduced of the Emslie Committee's Report, and, indeed, in the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, seem to me to pro- ceed on a misunderstanding of what the Emslie Committee was recommending.
For example, when it is suggested, as it is in the Criminal Law Revision Committee's Report, that it would be inappropriate for the judge in all or most cases to make a recommendation on account of the fact that he would not have the necessary information available to decide when it would be appropriate to release anyone—and I say this with great respect to the right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Sir A. Irvine), who also advanced this argument—that is addressing one's mind to the wrong question.
Emslie never at any time suggested that the presiding judge should take it upon himself to decide when it would be safe to release a convicted murderer. As was developed in the argument on the determinate sentence, that is something which must and can only be the responsibility of the Secretary of State and the parole board. It is not just that the presiding judge at the time of the trial does not have the information; no one has the information then. It is information that can only be acquired after examination and supervision of the prisoner over many years.
What Lord Emslie and his committee were getting at, I think—and it was put quite shortly in paragraph 93—was that in the sentencing process, in the public interest the presiding judge who has all the information relating to the offence uppermost in his mind should pronounce what in the public interest would be an appropriate period of imprisonment to serve, what would be the appropriate penalty a person should suffer in the light of the circumstances. It is put in paragraph 93 in this way:
The making of such a recommendation would enable a distinction to be made in public, by the Court, between one murderer and another.
It has been said many times today, and in the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, that if this is done on every occasion we are bound to get a number of cases which will require only a short period of imprisonment in view of the special circumstances. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster asked: so what? This is the kind of thing, Emslie would argue, which the
public would understand, and would want to hear.
I am not arguing for one set of recommendations as against another because they clearly require careful consideration. All I am pointing out is that criticisms in the Criminal Law Revision Committee report of Emslie are not all necessarily valid. Neither are the criticisms that have been heard today. What I ask for, and this is why I regret that this debate has come up now, is that the Government should have time to consider these reports. It is not enough to do something because some people want something to be done. We have to be satisfied that we are doing the right thing. I do not believe it is possible to reach a considered and concluded view on the recommendations of the Emslie Committee, even for Scotland, without considering very carefully the criticisms which have been adduced by the Criminal Law Revision Committee.
I certainly do not think—and here I speak as a Scottish lawyer—that it would be appropriate for this House to impose on England and Wales, when the judges in England and Wales are totally against it, a solution which runs in the teeth of the recommendation of their committee. We need time to think about it.
In view of what my right hon. and learned Friend has said, does he not agree that there would be a case in the near future for the Government considering some sort of legislation on the lines of Emslie for Scotland alone?
I have said that there are forceful arguments in support of the Emslie solution for Scotland. That is not what we are considering here. We are considering the Emslie solution and its application to Great Britain as a whole. In that context I do not think it would be possible or appropriate to accord this Bill a Second Reading.
My hon. Friend knows that questions of principle with which we are dealing here are appropriate for Second Reading and not for Committee stage discussions. These two reports have served a most useful purpose. They both come out clearly in support of the life sentence for the crime of murder and state unequivocally that many criticisms of the system are based upon what Emslie described as inadequate knowledge of the realities of that penalty. It seems to me to be the duty of all of us who have a material part to play in influencing public opinion to ensure that the realities of this awesome sentence are appreciated by the public. Where we differ is essentially whether as at present the recommendation of a minimum period of detention should be an exception or, as Emslie recommends, the general rule.
The English view is that the regular use of this power would detract from the deterrent effect. The Scottish Committee suggests on the contrary, that it would sharpen the deterrent effect because it feels that its proposal would enhance the judicial influence on the implementation of the penalty and that the public would have more confidence in a system where the judiciary played a more positive rôle than at present. But to impose the Scottish view on England and Wales and on the English judges who would have to operate the system would certainly call for the most anxious consideration.
Equally, it would be unthinkable to reject the considerations of the Scottish Committee, which was broadly based and which was presided over by the Lord Justice General of Scotland, simply because its recommendations might be deemed inappropriate for implementation south of the border. It hardly needs to he said that its recommendations must carry very great weight with Scottish Ministers and I assure the House that those recommendations will receive the most careful consideration.
I have certain difficulties in speaking in the debate partly because, the vagaries of British political life being what they are, no one is ever put in charge of that which he knows anything about and I was first introduced to this subject raw as a Minister. The second difficulty is that I have read the Emslie Report and I disagree with it. This is all the more difficult because I know personally at least four out of the seven members and I have worked closely with them. I was surprised to hear that the report was unanimous in view of my past dealings with some of the people whose views, in general, I share.
In reference to what the Lord Advocate said, I hope he will not maintain, as he said continuously during his speech, that this is the Scottish view. It is the view of the Emslie Committee. It is not yet the Scottish view, but there seemed to be, I am sure accidentally, through his remarks and in the reaction to his remarks the suggestion that it was. It was implied in the call for him to support, for example, the Scottish view. In fact, the call should be asking him to support the view of one committee. It is not yet the Scottish view, and it may not become so. The Government must consider it.
I agree entirely when the Lord Advocate says that the argument against putting the Bill into Committee is not just that there is a difference between the Scottish Committee view and the English Committee view, but that the matters of principle involved in both suggest that there requires to be serious consideration of those conflicting principles whether they are to be applied in Scotland or in England.
Next, we are dealing not with a matter primarily for Committee discussion but one for discusion in principle during a Second Reading debate. I entirely agree with that argument.
The final argument for not putting this matter into Committee was clearly underlined by the hon. and learned Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) who said that the primary function of the Government was to ensure the safety of the people and that this meant responsibility for law and order. Because the safety of the people and matters of law and order are matters of Government responsibility, I believe that any decision to send such an important matter to Committee should be made on Government initiative.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate said that because the situation in Scotland was different compared with England and Wales the recommendations of the Emslie Report were possibly to be applied to the Scottish situation. Certainly there is a difference in the number of crimes of violence and the increase in the murder figures in Scotland compared with the figures in England. But argument that the increase in the number of murders means that the Emslie Committee's view should be accepted in every case as an effective deterrent has not been made out. It has not been shown that it is an effective deterrent. There are other arguments undelined in the Emslie Report in paragraphs 92 and 93, particularly the suggestion that there is something to be said for a public declaration of the judicial view of the nature of the crime; but that is different from saying that the deterrent argument is proved.
I do not fundamentally disagree with what the Lord Advocate said. In a sense I am underlining some of his warnings, but I did not want the matter to go unchallenged.
Having dealt with the ex cathedra statement made by the Lord Advocate, I turn to deal with the speech made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) in introducing the Bill. I stress that I am now speaking as an individual back bencher. The hon. Gentleman should realise, as should some of his hon. Friends, that they have no priority of caring. Some of us resent immensely the suggestion that it is sufficient to prove that murder is a bad thing to dispense with the arguments of those who say that capital punishment or long sentences are not necessarily the answer. I resent such an attitude, as I did when I was a Minister and often came under attacks from hon. Gentlemen opposite.
We are dealing with a major problem, and the beginning of wisdom in this subject is to recognise that there are no certainties. What worries me is the appalling certainty with which certain hon. Members say that a crime can be divided into categories A, B or C, or that they know the solutions for each. We do not know. How can one explain the fact that, although the deterrents were the same in both the English and Scottish situations—first capital punishment and then prison sentences after the abolition of capital punishment—the figures were roughly the same? When we changed that policy but retained an equally deterrent principle in England and Scotland, the figures changed. There must be some other reason. One needs to look a little more closely at the facts rather than accept judicial statements or decisions in the court itself. There are other reasons for this. There are social reasons, and one should consider them.
The hon. Gentleman based his case for saying that deterrents were the answer upon the Lord Carmont experience. The Lord Carmont period is beginning to assume the dimensions of the mythologies of ancient Greece in the hands of one or two people in Scotland. The truth is twofold. The hon. Gentleman argued that the Carmont sentences reduced the number of razor-slashings. I do not think that that was the reason. Razor-slashings were common during the 'twenties and 'thirties because the razor was the customary weapon of hooligans and thugs, particularly those who went about in gangs. It was the customary weapon of the sectarian gangs in the urban districts in the West of Scotland.
Razor-slashing decreased because the weapon used by the gangs changed. They adopted, instead, the stabbing weapon. Stabbings usually did not result from gang set pieces. The stabbings occurred not because the gangs set out with any plan in mind but merely because a punch-up occurred and knives were used. The pattern has changed also because the sectarian nature of the gangs has changed. This is no longer the basis of our problem.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong on another point. The truth is that the sentences now passed in Scotland are very much higher than they used to be in earlier days. Therefore, if his argument is that a short sentence did not deter and proved the need for long sentences, something has gone wrong with his argument, because the long sentences now being imposed are not having a deterrent effect. There is no experience to back up his argument.
I now want to consider the effectiveness of the view propounded in the Bill about the declaration of a number of years to
be served. At this point perhaps I may refer to the Minister's speech. I thank him for his thoughtful and useful speech, but I have a warning for him. He based a great deal of his speech on facts and figures. Indeed, his facts were substantiated by figures. I remember the time when I was being subjected to great pressure to prevent violence in Scotland. I took a long weekend to prepare a speech based on statistics. I delivered that speech to the Muir Society in Edinburgh and thought that I had dealt with the problem, but when I opened the Daily Express the next morning I saw splashed on the centre page an article which said
Facts not figures is what we want, Mr. Buchan.
When people are determined to say that they know the answer, it is very difficult to convince them that they are wrong. The hon. Gentleman's argument has centred around the usefulness of the deterrent. The trouble is that the effectiveness of the deterrent is reduced by the very people who put the argument forward. Why in heaven's name is this argument about the valuelessness of the life sentence put forward? The hon. Gentleman spoke very responsibly today, as he usually does in the House. He is not always when speaking here the Teddy that we hear north of the border, but the hoof showed a little.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the life sentence being a farce. But, with respect, someone who is concerned to use sentencing as a deterrent and concerned primarily with preventing violence in order to protect life and limb would not go around saying that. On the contrary, the Emslie Report says that such a person would accept the position which underlines the seriousness of the life sentence. The Emslie Report says at paragraph 90:
The general deterrent value of a penalty depends on the public's understanding of it. The removal of misapprehensions about the sentence of life imprisonment should in our view strengthen significantly its deterrent value and it is incumbent on those responsible for influencing public opinion to ensure that correct information on the realities of penalties is presented.
The report underlines our responsibility in these matters. That is why it is irresponsible to peddle the view in this rather vulgar way that the life sentence is a farce——
—or to suggest that it only means eight or nine years. Indeed, both committees reject that view. It must be made clear that the life senence means what it says. If a man is released at a later date he is still under licence.
I am sorry if I misheard the hon. Gentleman. I made a note of it, and somebody else referred to it. If I am wrong, I shall be corrected, but it is my view that the hon. Gentleman said something close to that. But certainly he is wrong on the point about eight or nine years.
It is argued that if at the point of sentencing a figure is given it will act as a sharper deterrent. That is what the Emslie Committee argues, and I think that is what the hon. Gentleman says. However, that is not the fact. It has been argued that the 8 per cent. of cases where a recommendation has been given in England proves that it is not very effective. That is precisely the point. It is because it has been used in only 8 per cent. of the cases that it is effective. If recommendations were used all the time we would be able to equate murder with, for example, six months, four years or six years. Two or three things follow. First, the importance or the seriousness of the murder charge would be reduced. I happen to think that the crime of murder is qualitatively different from any other crime. I find it difficult to prove, but that is my view. Consequently, I believe that there is only one possible sentence for it—namely, the life sentence. However, it is then the duty of society, whilst it has the convicted person in its custody and care, to have regard to the primary consideration; that is, safety of people outside, and that is the function of society's elected organisations, the Government and public bodies.
It is not true that the judge can easily determine the point of release. The English Criminal Law Revision Committee says precisely that—this is paragraph 28—
… the trial judge may well not have sufficient information available to him at the time of trial to enable him to know what minimum period to recommend.
It recognises that the judge's function is primarily judicial, that in any other type of case he uses his sentencing function in order, as it were, to show society's view of the particular crime.
In a case of murder, the situation is entirely different, and one has to judge not only the nature of the crime but at what point, having regard to public safety and the nature of the murderer in custody, the offender may be released. That is separate from the judicial function, and I find it surprising that the hon. Member and his supporters, who accept the Emslie argument that the task is to increase the judicial content of sentencing policy, should at the same time attack the Criminal Law Revision Committee's Report, since it is based upon a high judicial content and is produced by a body with substantial judicial membership.
I spoke at the outset of the lack of certainty. I come now to a matter of fact. We are not dealing here with an isolated phenomenon in considering the increase of violence and, therefore, the increase in crime. The point at which to attack the problem—I hope that the House will understand what I am trying to say—is not at the point of murder. The increase in crime in Scotland has come about not because of an increase in what we know as the crime passionelle, not because of an increase in domestic murder, but because of the increase in violence. Some violence will end in killing, and when there is an increase in violence there is an increase in killing. But this, as I say, is a world-wide phenomenon, not one isolated to Scotland.
When I look back at the way in which the hon. Member for Cathcart and others conducted their election campaign in Scotland on the question of law and order, murder and violence—[An HON. MEMBER: "Come off it."] Those who are inclined to say that should have had the experience that some of us have had of the hon. Gentleman over the last two or three years. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), who disagrees with me on this matter, will nevertheless agree with what I am saying now.
Those hon. Members who have conducted their campaign must accept that this is not an isolated phenomenon in Scotland but that the increase of violence is world-wide and they should bear in mind another comparison. If we are asked to accept the Government's excuse that the increases in prices is due to a world-wide phenomenon, perhaps the hon. Gentleman and his supporters will accept that the increase of violence in Scotland has come about because Scotland is sharing in a world-wide phenomenon.
I appeal to hon. Members to think primarily of the victims. There is a tendency among those who plead for heavier sentences and punishments to accuse the rest of us of not thinking of the victims. With respect, I believe that it is the other way round. If they would consider the victims, and, above all, the potential victims, they would have to start thinking about the real problem. The moment one says that the minimum sentence shall be four years, eight years, 10 years or 12, it becomes immediately accepted that that is the period the man will serve.
There will, therefore, be an intolerable strain upon the potential victims in our prisons when an inmate has served that period of time but is not, for the best of reasons, released. The Minister gave the example of a person being given a short sentence because of the nature of the crime, a sentence of four or five years, but the understanding of the authorities, and, perhaps, even of the trial judge himself, was that he could not later be released. When his four or five years is up, however, that person will become an almost impossible prisoner. That is the difficulty, and the potential victims are the prison officers themselves. To remove hope, or to cause increased frustration or a sense of injustice to people in prison, is the recipe for trouble in our prisons. I very much hope that that aspect of the matter will be borne in mind.
I appeal to the House, therefore, to reject the Bill, bearing in mind the responsibilities of the Government in this matter, though I acknowledge the argument about the responsibility of back benchers in the matter of law and order which were advanced by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine). I see that the hon. Gentleman has just returned to his seat, and I hope that he will refer to HANSARD later to read what I said earlier.
It is far from being a deterrent to reduce the qualitative deterrence of life imprisonment by substituting mandatory sentencing, which could vary from point to point, from crime to crime, and from sentence to sentence, reducing the importance and seriousness which society must place upon the crime of murder and the imposition of the term "life sentence".
I will not comment on the arguments of the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan). Nor will I be as lengthy.
I support the feeling which underlies the Bill. I do not want to deploy a statistical argument. The fears put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) are fears to which the House and the country should listen. The trend about which we must have most concern is the trend to criminal violence. It is a grim trend which, like so much in the criminal statistics, is not brought out enough. I was amused to hear my hon. Friend the Minister of State talking about the inadequacies of the statistics, because the remedy is very much in his hand, particularly in the implementation of the Perks Committee report, which has lain on the table for five years.
The area of crime with which the public is most concerned is that of crimes of violence. I will give some figures provided to me by my hon. Friend. Over the last three years, between 1969 and 1971—there is thus no implication of party either way—the average increase in crime was 11 per cent. On the other hand, the increase in woundings was 21 per cent., in robbery 24 per cent., and in murder, plus attempted murder—the victims being over the age of one under the classification used by McClintock and the Cambridge Institute—the rise was 21 per cent. In other words, the crimes rising in number most rapidly are those involving violence. The House should note that.
We should also note that the other really alarming increase is in the use of firearms. Last year there were 572 robberies involving the use of firearms, compared with 265 in 1967. If such a rate of increase continues, by 1980 there will be over 3,000 robberies a year involving firearms, which is about nine a day. Not only is crime becoming more violent but the risk of murder is obviously becoming much more than it was previously.
The experience of other countries should lead us to take the problem of serious crime very seriously. What so many of us are concerned about is the problem of the criminal who goes out armed, who is prepared to risk murder. We are not so much concerned about the other questions. Therefore the question does become whether the life sentence itself is a sufficient punishment for murder—indeed, whether the Bill's provisions are a sufficient punishment for murder.
The punishment for murder should meet several points. It should not only be the appropriate punishment but should also mark the public's view of the crime and should be seen as a deterrent. The basic objection to the life sentence is that it looks uncertain—that no one knows what it means. I do not subscribe to the view that "life" means nine years. But by definition a life sentence looks an uncertain sentence and therefore I am not sure that it can be considered the kind of unique deterrent we want in the case of murder. We face a difficulty here.
My concern with criminal murders is that we have to convince the public in a reasonable, straightforward manner that the life sentence is an adequate deterrent and an adequate mark of our disapproval of the offence.
Does the proposal in the Bill strengthen the deterrent? I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that if the recommendation is mandatory it may not strengthen the deterrent unless we limit it as my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) proposed. If we make it mandatory we may weaken the deterrent.
I think that we should retain the discretion for the life sentence in the hands of the judges. I advocate that when a judge recommends a minimum period in the life sentence it should not be a recommendation, but a stipulation. We have heard that this discretion or recommendation is used in comparatively few cases, but they are the most serious. I believe that the recommendation in the life sentence adds an element of uncertainty, because a recommendation means what it says: it can be followed or not. Therefore, there is a great argument for it not being a recommendation, but a stipulation.
I have noted what the Criminal Law Revision Committee said. I wish that I had longer to go into the report. It is a great pity that the committee was unable to give us its interim report when we were considering the Criminal Justice Bill. I am surprised that this document, for which we have been waiting for three years, turns out to have only 20 pages, well reasoned, but not, I should think, one of the most mammoth tasks facing a committee.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart would get greater support for his Bill if he were to change the clause referring to the recommendation. I do not believe it should be a recommendation. The courts should have power to stipulate a minimum period within the life sentence that the offender shall serve before being released. That would still leave discretion with the Home Secretary whether release should be granted or not. I believe that would be a surer deterrent. It would appear more certain both to the public and to the criminal than the suggestion put forward in the Bill.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I will rest my argument there.
We should recognise the public concern about this issue. The public expect us to take note and to make reasonable proposals. I believe that what I have proposed is a reasonable amendment to the present life sentence.
One reason that I agreed to sponsor the Bill was to widen the area and keep open the dialogue on this important matter. I am more concerned with crimes of violence than with murder. I predict, without fear of contradiction, that in Glasgow tonight somebody will be stabbed or slashed. It is due only to good medical attention that many such cases do not become murder. Four weeks ago one of my constituents was slashed down his back and had to have 76 stitches. The assault was occasioned not by reason of his having annoyed someone or by a sectarian gang. This is the kind of thing at which we must take a good look.
My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) referred to gang warfare in Glasgow. He was speaking of gang-for-gang activities, redskins and so on, but today the emphasis has changed and violence is being inflicted on innocent people. I make no bones about it. I do not like my son or daughter to go into Glasgow on a Friday or Saturday night, because of what might happen.
Governments have run away from this. I am sympathetic to people who, because of broken homes, resort to this type of crime, but the big mistake we have made is in not providing sufficient rehabilitation facilities for such people. In Glasgow, Barlinnie prison was built
When a policeman or anyone else attempts to stop a criminal, I am concerned that the criminal may have it in his head that he will be no worse off if he shoots the person who is attempting to stop him. Notwithstanding what the Minister said, I have a strong feeling that many criminals are convinced that the penalty for murder will be a sentence of only eight or nine years.
We need to keep the dialogue going. At least give us a chance to talk. The time is fast approaching when we must stand up and be counted. I am not suggesting that I am right or that somebody else is wrong. This matter is of such importance that the House must give much more attention to it. I urge that we keep the dialogue going as much for the sake of potential criminals as for the sake of potential victims.
|Division No. 39.]||AYES||[3.58 p.m|
|Adley, Robert||Gurden, Harold||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)|
|Allason, James(Hemel Hempstead)||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Hastings, Stephen||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Hay, John||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Bowden, Andrew||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Soref, Harold|
|Burden, F. A.||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Luce, R. N.||Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas||MacArthur, Ian||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Doig, Peter||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Mather, Carol||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Fell, Anthony||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Wilkinson, John|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Fowler, Norman||Moate, Roger||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Mr. Patrick Cormack and|
|Goodhart, Philip||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||Mr. J. R. Kinsey.|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Heseltine, Michael|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)||Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)|
|Bainiel, Rt. Hn. Lord||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Blaker, Peter||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Gibson-Watt, David||Kerr, Russell|
|Buchan, Norman||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Kinnock, Neil|
|Buck, Antony||Grieve, Percy||Lamborn, Harry|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Lambton, Lord|
|Carlisle, Mark||Haselhurst, Alan||Lane, David|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Hattersley, Roy||Latham, Arthur|
|Channon, Paul||Hayhoe, Barney||Leonard, Dick|
|Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Richard, Ivor||Tope, Graham|
|Macmillan, Rt.Hn. Maurice (Farnham)||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Moudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)||Scott, Nicholas||Weitzman, David|
|Morrison, Charles||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Nott, John||Silverman, Julius||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Parker, John (Dagenham)||Sinclair, Sir George||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Spearing, Nigel||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Peyton, Rt. Hn. John||Stallard, A. W.|
|Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.||Stanbrook, Ivor||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||Strang, Gavin||Mr. Martain Maddan and|
|Redmond, Robert||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret||Mr. William Hamling|
|Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|